The Current State of Play

The Current State of Play Australia is a multicultural diverse and on the whole, a religiously tolerant country. Australia is also centrally and conveniently located at the cross roads of countries with significant Muslim populations. This is further supported by the fact that Australia is already a significant food exporter to many countries in the Middle East and South East Asia and is held in the highest regard in relation to the standards and quality of those products that we do send overseas. Owing to the high standards inherent to Australian products and to the growing trade with the Middle East and South East Asia, HALAL “certification” (emphasis intended) is a growing business segment in Australia that is drawing attention on the community and industry. It is also this very growth with the lack of transparency amongst the certifiers, along with a fragmented marketplace and confusion over what the HALAL “certification” process involves, that is creating a climate of uncertainty for antiHALAL campaigners and Muslim consumers alike. It should be noted that the HALAL sector in Australia and worldwide is projected to be worth between $1.6 trillion & $1.7 trillion, currently growing at between 10% – 15% annually and this is driving Australian food producers trying to tap into the Middle East and South East Asia markets that have those significant Muslim populations.

A report published by A T Kearney, management consultancy firm, with offices around the world, in 2008 entitled Addressing the Muslim Market – Can You Afford Not To? Concluded the following:

“With many of the World consumer segments reaching a saturation point, the Muslim Consumer is fast becoming a new outlet to become a base for future growth. Although there are political and social pitfalls to consider, the opportunities are so vast and far reaching that they greatly out weigh the risks. Since Muslims are the fastest growing consumer segment in the world, any company that is not considering how to serve them is missing an opportunity to affect both its top and bottom line growth.”

Australian food manufacturers and producers can, if they wish, seek HALAL “certification” of their products, facilities and processes from appropriate Islamic religious authorities and certifiers. They do this to provide Muslim consumers, both domestically and in export markets, with the assurance of a third party endorsement that their product is indeed HALAL. Third party “certifications” are very common in food labelling as a means of giving consumers extra confidence in a claim: most organic food has the claim certified by a third party, and similar schemes exist in relation to the nutrition qualities of food (e.g. the National Heart Foundation’s “Tick” logo), animal welfare (the RSPCA’s Approved Farming Scheme), allergens (Coeliac Australia’s ‘crossed grain’ logo) and many others. In all these cases, the certifiers charge for their services, at least to cover costs.

What is HALAL?

HALAL is an Arabic word meaning permissible. HALAL by its definition does not only pertain to food and can refer to any aspect of life covered by the teachings of Islam. By official definition, HALAL foods are those that are: 1. Free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic law. 2. Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law

  1. Free from any component that Muslims are prohibited from consuming according to Islamic law. 2. Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law
  2. Processed, made, produced, manufactured and/or stored using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that have been cleansed according to Islamic law

All foods are considered HALAL except the following:

  • Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants;
  • Non-HALAL animal fat;
  • Enzymes (microbial enzymes are permissible);
  • Gelatine from non-HALAL source (fish gelatine is HALAL);
  • L-cysteine (if from human hair);
  • Lard;
  • Lipase (only animal lipase need be avoided);
  • Non-HALAL animal shortening;
  • Pork products;
  • Unspecified meat broth;
  • Rennet (All forms should be avoided except for plant, microbial and synthetic rennet, as well as rennet obtained from HALAL slaughtered animals);
  • Stock (mixed species broth or meat stock);
  • Tallow (non-HALAL species);
  • Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals;
  • Foods contaminated with any of the above products;

Source: Islamic Council of Victoria

HALAL is part of Sharia, as a system of morals to guide Muslim actions and behaviour, but this should not be confused with HALAL as part of a codified system of Sharia law. HALAL prescriptions might be considered by observant Muslims to be religious obligations and therefore Muslims choose to eat HALAL food because it meets requirements that they believe make it suitable for consumption.

The Problem

How does HALAL certification work?

HALAL “certification” means that a product’s contents and manufacture has been endorsed by an appropriate religious authority as meeting the Islamic requirements relating to food. There are a number of competing Islamic agencies in Australia who offer HALAL “certification services”, and the Australian Department of Agriculture has a useful guide to HALAL certifiers for export markets.

There are three different types of HALAL “certification” in Australia;

  1. Individual products can be certified, meaning the production process and ingredients in that particular product are HALAL. So a consumer could buy HALAL yoghurt, for example, from a store that also sold non-HALAL yoghurt.
  2. Production facilities can be certified, so that any products produced according to the “certification” standards can claim to be HALAL. For example, in an abattoir that is certified to produce HALAL meat, the meat will be HALAL no matter what cuts or final shape the meat takes. However, it may not even get labelled as HALAL when it reaches the market.
  3. Retail premises can also be certified so that all food prepared and sold from that business is HALAL.

It is this very process and “who” is performing the service, that has created the uncertainty in the minds of the Muslim consumer and larger community. The Muslim consumer in particular and consumer in general is unable to find out exactly what process has been followed in the “certification” process and what standards have been set / followed or adhered to by the “certification” provider. This was the case last year, when a South Australian yoghurt company required to be certified to tender for a contract with Emirates airlines. Yet that very need to have the Yoghurt certified, created confusion amongst the general consumer, as they could not understand why certification was needed, e.g. Yoghurt producer, and this raised the question, why? and where did the fees paid end up. While Yoghurt is considered natural, the industrial process does sometimes utilise microbial agents, then it may well be that this is part of the consideration for the “certification” but owing to the lack of transparency and lack of guidelines, this was not communicated to the public because the process itself could not be independently “reviewed” by a third party.

Who certifies HALAL food?

Certified HALAL products in Australia can come from two sources: domestic products that are produced locally and certified by local businesses, or imported products that have been certified overseas.

Numerous HALAL certifiers operate in Australia. The Department of Agriculture maintains a list of Islamic organisations that have an “Approved Arrangement” to certify HALAL meat for export. There are 22 organisations operating in Australia as of September 2015 (attachment “A”).

However, Australian government regulation applies only to providers that certify meat for export. While much of this meat may end up in the domestic market, “certification” providers that service only the Australian market do not come under any government regulation.

It should be noted that this very lack of consistency between a regulated, government monitored and managed, export process and a lack of any regulation or consistency amongst the local certifiers that creates the biggest issues for both food manufacturers, producers and suppliers.

While some HALAL “certification” providers are associated with, or part of, larger Australian Islamic organisations, such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) or Supreme Islamic Council of HALAL Meat in Australia (SICHMA), others are stand-alone businesses that provide local certification services, at a cost.

However, association with any community organisation in itself does not dispel or instil any clarity in the mind of the end consumer. So, with so much uncertainty about what constitutes HALAL, how products are certified and who is doing the “certification” domestically, and owing to the lack of any established guidelines or transparency, consumers who wish to buy HALAL food can find that a difficult task.

For non-Muslim Australian consumers, however, HALAL food is little different to any other food available, e.g. Organic or Heart tick. It only matters whether or not food is HALAL if a person has the religious conviction and desire to eat only HALAL food. Although improvements could be made, HALAL “certification” is one way Muslims are able to do this to their satisfaction. Therefore, looking at the big picture, being the general consumer, the need to look at and consider a set of standards that are in keeping with the export approved benchmark, would go some way to creating consistency and confidence in the domestic and export markets, as export approved meat can already be sold domestically whether labelled or not.

It is the very lack of consistency and transparency, in particular, in the domestic marketplace, that “certification” of HALAL food in Australia has recently become a topic of contentious discussion in the community, not always based on logic or evidence. This is compounded by politicians; Jacqui Lambie (Senator, Tas) threatening to introduce a private senator’s bill to close what she claims are “legal loopholes” that: “could allow financing of terrorists and Australia’s enemies through HALAL money”. Luke Simpkins (MP, Liberal WA) outrageous claim that HALAL is converting unwitting consumers to Islam & George Christensen (LNP MP, QLD) linking HALAL “certification” to religious extremism.

The current “certification” process and lack of transparency has further angered a small, but very vocal minority in the community. The rise of these community activist groups (Q Society & HALAL Choices) telling consumers to boycott HALAL products has given them the opportunity to criticise the process and demonise the Muslim community. Through a disingenuous campaign of misinformation, by falsely claiming that funds from “certification” are being directed to mosques & schools with the aim to impose Sharia law in Australia. While some certifiers are very clear on the assistance they provide to local mosques, schools and community groups, it is not the intention, we believe to secretly fund the introduction of Sharia law to Australia, as claimed. On some occasions, these very vocal minorities have also made unsubstantiated claims that funds are being directed to terrorist groups. A recent investigation by the Australia Crime Commission (ACC) found no such evidence or connection to support this blatant claim.

The reason why such claims gain traction or a semblance of truth, if its repeated enough times, is the lack of guidelines and transparency surrounding “certification”, such that despite the ACC findings, you still find the vocal minority supported by vocal politicians on the fringe, appealing to the local constituency, who lend some credibility to the campaign in the wider community. 

The Remedy

As the Muslim consumer and general public, due to the lack of guidelines and transparency, are unable to find out exactly what process has been followed in the “certification” process and what standards have been set by the “certification” provider, the question becomes how do we reassure the Muslim consumer and larger community.

What we propose and believe is required for the Australian consumer is HALAL accreditation by an independent authority, such as the HACCP program or such equivalent that is currently utilised by the wider business community in both Australia and/or overseas. This is particularly true in Australia where the process of HALAL “certification”, at least on a domestic basis, is itself not monitored or regulated in any real way (The Australian Government is currently undertaking a Senate enquiry into HALAL certifiers in Australia). The problem with this lack of oversight or regulation, leaves a lot of scope for conflicts of interest, leading to the lack of transparency and inconsistency inherent to the current “state of play”. This can happen because there is no official agency or accreditation body which has the authority to supervise the HALAL compliance process / standards used by the various certifiers in Australia, except those seeking accreditation for the export marketplace. The Australian government, although currently undertaking the Senate enquiry, apart from the export regulation, chooses not to get involved because they consider it a religious issue. Yet the growth of the segment and the growing discourse in the community makes it imperative for some form of control, whether by adoption of the export standards or such like, or the creation of a supervisory board or instrument that lends some clarity and certainty to the Muslim and greater community, in both the domestic and export markets.

The focus of our proposed solution in Australia, being at the cutting edge of both quality and supply and a door to the world, is how to make HALAL not only meet, but exceed the standards that are expected in the mainstream food sector, by the domestic and international consumer.

As it currently stands, except for the export accredited certifiers, anyone can theoretically setup up “shop”, and commence certifying without the necessary background / knowledge or confidence of the community, and to say that this does not and has not been happening, would be to ignore why the current climate has evolved.

As part of the wider HALAL discussion, we find that researchers in Malaysia (a country having seen the rise of HALAL), being at the cutting edge of all things HALAL, looking at how a quality standard set by the laws of Islam could have wider application as a trademark denoting “healthy” and “sustainable”.

Further, the term ‘HALAL supply chain’ is now being commonly used in some markets, and people are starting to think of HALAL in these terms because of newly created world HALAL events / forums, ongoing media focus and the growing awareness amongst the food manufacturers, producers and suppliers of the world.

If we think for a moment about what HALAL represents in the marketplace, and look at the values that HALAL represents, you see that in the general market people want their products to be lawful, safe, nutritious, healthy, humane, equitable, and ecologically aware. They want this not only for their products and their services, they also want it for their companies and for the management of those companies.

This evolution in the world will see the rise of independent third party audits emerging and transparent transactions where the business relating to audits and “certification” is going to become much more transparent. This whole process will be overseen by accreditation agencies who will regulate the process by which HALAL standards are developed, HALAL audits are conducted, and HALAL certificates are issued. In nonMuslim countries, all of this will have to be done to “standards” of that particular country.

When you look at the Muslim consumer around the world, the estimate is now 1.6 billion. People talk about the economies of India and China being ‘billion plus’ consumer markets. If you put the Muslim consumer market alongside that, they are being referred to as ‘the third billion’, more culturally and geographically diverse yet curiously bound together by common elements that they share and which are really not negotiable for them. This is still very much an unrecognized power. We see it emerging in different parts of the world, but the power of the Muslim consumers is still very much untapped. The skill with which producers, manufacturers and other entities are able to engage with this latent Muslim consumer power will also reflect their success.

If we therefore consider that standards, guidelines and regulation appear inevitable owing to the dynamics and the growth potential of the Muslim and general consumer, warrants the imperative that Australia takes a lead in this developing space, or falls by the wayside. Whether it is through the current lack of uncertainty or transparency, that is “certification” that may well lead importers to reject the process and insist on an external set of standards, imposed, that will see “certification” outsourced tocountries with the associated loss to the economy, in both jobs / income and goodwill, traditionally found in all things Australian.

In conclusion, while obvious that the lack of transparency and consistency in the domestic market is there for all to see, warts and all, with its inherent shortcomings, the solution does already exist. We have an export certification program in place that is monitored and administered by The Department of Agriculture, refer attachment A. If we take the time to review and consider this matrix, it would be worth considering the complexity of who is accredited with which countries and what “relationship” has been established to earn such accreditation.

To create a level field for both the domestic and export markets, the very matrix should be utilised to create standards and guidelines that are consistent and transparent for all involved. If the government mandates that all certifiers must be accredited for both the domestic and export markets, being one and the same, it becomes clearer, who the certify is including the price charged?, what process they are following?, how they have been accredited? and where the funds are being directed, thus removing any uncertainty about conflict of interest or third party benefit, domestic and international.

By introducing and creating a standard that is world best (like HACCP), we take the lead in the world community and avoid being told what is best practice by external providers, whose background and/or focus may not be that which is best served by the Australian consumer.