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The Low Down OF Halal Certification

The Low Down OF Halal Certification

By By Shakira Hussein on 29 Nov, 2015

 What is halal?


Halal is the Arabic word for “lawful”. For Muslims, it refers to objects and actions that are permitted by Islamic law. The opposite of halal is haram, which means “forbidden”. Murder and theft are haram, for example.
However, the words halal and haram are also commonly used to designate whether or not particular food and beverages may be consumed by observant Muslims. The underlying rule is that those foods which have not been prohibited under Islamic law are assumed to be halal. The most noteworthy prohibitions in the Australian context are the consumption of pork and alcohol. However, some are more obscure. For example, cochineal extract (a red food extract mostly used in sweets and bakery items) is regarded as haram because it is derived from an insect.

Grain, dairy, fruit and vegetables are all halal by nature and do not require certification. However, sometimes these products will display the certification symbol anyway. This shows that it is clear of contamination by traces of prohibited product, or may come about because the company concerned has halal certification for their entire enterprise.

Halal is the Arabic word for “lawful”. For Muslims, it refers to objects and actions that are permitted by Islamic law. The opposite of halal is haram, which means “forbidden”. Murder and theft are haram, for example.

However, the words halal and haram are also commonly used to designate whether or not particular food and beverages may be consumed by observant Muslims. The underlying rule is that those foods which have not been prohibited under Islamic law are assumed to be halal. The most noteworthy prohibitions in the Australian context are the consumption of pork and alcohol. However, some are more obscure. For example, cochineal extract (a red food extract mostly used in sweets and bakery items) is regarded as haram because it is derived from an insect.

Grain, dairy, fruit and vegetables are all halal by nature and do not require certification. However, sometimes these products will display the certification symbol anyway. This shows that it is clear of contamination by traces of prohibited product, or may come about because the company concerned has halal certification for their entire enterprise.

How does halal differ from kosher?

Muslim and Jewish dietary laws share many parallels, most obviously the prohibition on the consumption of pork. Locusts are another similarity. Given the history of locust plagues in the region where both religions originated, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find that these are the only insect regarded as both halal and kosher (although there are different opinions among both Muslims and Jews as to which species of locusts are acceptable). Halal and kosher slaughter practices are also similar, with the animal’s throat slit with a sharp blade and the blood drained. Both religious traditions emphasise that death should be as swift and painless as possible.

However, some animal rights groups have campaigned against both forms of slaughter because of the issue of pre-stunning. Australian regulations require animals to be stunned so that they are unconscious when slaughtered. However, a small number of abattoirs have been granted exemptions from this requirement in order to allow them to undertake religious slaughter – a practice the RSPCA is campaigning against. The vast majority of halal slaughter undertaken in Australia is done with the use of stunning.

Of course, there are also significant differences between halal and kosher. Kosher permits the consumption of alcohol while halal (unlike kosher) does not prohibit mixing meat and dairy products.

Another similarity between kosher and halal regulations is the strong opposition that both have attracted. Criticism, and some would say demonisation, of kosher food has taken place in Europe for centuries. Calls to boycott halal-certified goods bear many similarities to campaigns against kosher certification, with halal and kosher respectively described as the “Islamic tax” and “the Jewish tax” – the inference being that certification increases the cost of a service or good and forces some consumers to pay for a service that they do not personally require.


Why do food laws carry a special significance for Muslims?

Muslims hold a wide range of attitudes and beliefs regarding towards food regulations, and different schools of Islamic thought have established different sets of halal regulations – for example, some maintain that all seafood is halal while others believe that fish are the only halal seafood.

Following a halal diet in a Muslim majority society is relatively straightforward, since this is the default dietary option. In Australia, some Muslims find that following a strictly halal-regulated diet is a way of staying connected to their faith on a day-to-day basis in a society where they do not receive other such regular reminders, like the sound of the call to prayer from a local mosque.

Other Muslims may observe dietary restrictions because of deeply engrained cultural attitudes, rather than religious piety. Even some atheists of Muslim background continue to exclude pork from their dietary preferences out of a sense of personal distaste – similar to the feelings that might deter many Australian travellers from eating dog, rat or guinea pig meat when visiting locations where those are regarded as normal fare.

Why do manufacturers in Australia have products certified as halal?

Various Australian manufacturers and retailers who have obtained halal certification have stated that their decision to do so was taken on strictly commercial grounds in order to expand their market and obtain export deals. While halal certification is helpful for Australia’s Muslim population (476 000 according to the 2011 census, or about 2.2 per cent of the population), they are not the main consumer base for Australia’s halal-certified products, which are primarily intended for the export market, which is estimated to be worth $13 billion dollars a year.

Most Australian Muslims feel able to make their own judgement as to whether or not a particular product is halal, rather than relying on a halal certification symbol on the label.

Companies using halal certification range from small producers such as Byron Bay Cookies and Bega Cheese to leading brands such as Vegemite, Cadburys and Nestlé.


How are halal products certified in Australia?

A number of different bodies provide halal certification in Australia. Seyfi Seyit from the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) explains that “there are four major halal certification bodies: the Islamic Coordinating Council of Victoria (ICCV), AHA, Sichma (Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australian) and Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC)”. There is no central regulation of halal certification for the domestic market – in theory, it can be undertaken by anyone. However, the export market for halal meat is overseen by both Australian government regulators and the halal regulators of the importing country.

In the case of goods such as dairy products and bakery items, halal certification involves an inspection of the premises to check that the goods are not cross-contaminated by contact with alcohol or pork products.

Halal certification of abattoirs requires a higher degree of oversight and is therefore more complicated and expensive. However, it also generates higher profits by opening the door to lucrative markets in the Asia and the Middle East.

The fees raised from halal certification have been an important source of funds for establishing community facilities. According to Seyfi Seyit, “most of the funds go back to the mosques in building projects, repairs, maintenance, youth programs and paying their staff. Sichma puts 100 per cent of funds back into the mosques in New South Wales. AFIC uses its funds to pay staff, administration and support various mosques around Australia. ICCV may by request support various community groups and sometimes overseas charity projects. AHA donates to selected charities like Human Appeal.”
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