‘Halal’ is an Arabic word that means ‘permitted’ or ‘lawful’. As such, noting that most food is considered ‘halal’ anyway, halal food certification schemes should provide consumers with certainty that the food they purchase is lawful under Islamic Sharia law. These schemes generally ensure culinary compliance with Sharia law in two ways.
- They certify that food that is inherently halal (such as bread and water) does not contain elements that are ‘haram’ or ‘forbidden’ under Islamic Sharia law (such as pork or alcohol). This is a ‘negative’ certification.
- They certify that food products that contain meat and other animal derivatives have been produced from permitted animals sacrificed to the Islamic god, Allah, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law. This is a ‘positive’ certification.
As such, both Muslims and non-Muslims really have no beef over ‘negative’ halal food. And if Muslims want an imam to tell ‘em that water is hunky dory and are going to pay for the privilege of it all, go for it, I say. But that’s not what’s happening with these products. The rest of us are paying for the imam, his salary and his school and Sharia legal practice. That’s a bit rich.
On the other hand, I can see why Muslims might want an imam to certify that their beef jerky has been appropriately sacrificed to Allah. After all, that is the whole point of Sharia meat. It’s gotta be slaughtered for a god that most Australians associate with the Islamic State. And that is pretty much the reason why many Australians might be a bit picky when it comes to their steaks: do they want T-bone, or something that’s been T-boned for Allah?
You don’t need me to answer that difficult theological dilemma.
And that is a basic rundown; Halal 101 if you wish.
But while halal is a relatively simple concept, halal certification is more complicated. In order to receive certification, producers are generally required to meet a number of other conditions, some of which have no bearing on the production of halal food itself. Instead, they focus on establishing Islam in the workplace and prohibiting practices that are contrary to Sharia law, even though they are widely accepted by the majority of Australians.
- Meat producers in particular must have two separate supply chains to ensure that any products that do not meet Islamic Sharia law requirements are segregated. For instance, sometimes the animal’s reversible concussive stun wears off and it has to be killed immediately and before its neck is sliced in the appropriate Sharia ritual. In these cases, the slaughter is not halal, it’s not fit for Muslim consumption and it needs to go somewhere else where the non-Islamic plebs can eat it.
- Producers must employ Muslims for specific elements in the production process.
- Producers must provide religious facilities for Muslim workers and provide cultural training for non-Muslim employees.
- Producers must not produce or supply products that are considered haram under Islamic Sharia law. Like bacon.
- Pork must be quarantined from production facilities. Given the growing list of certification demands, this could even go so far as to mean that non-Islamic workers are forbidden from bring their ham sandwich to work for lunch.
In order to be effective and meet the needs of all consumers (that’s us and not just Muslims), it is especially necessary for halal ‘positive’ food to be clearly labelled.
This way Muslims can know what they’re purchasing. And the rest of us can know what we want to avoid.
Most importantly, effective certification rests on the assumption that certifying authorities build and maintain the trust of Islamic consumers by transparently demonstrating that they are actually enforcing Islamic Sharia law standards rigorously. We’ll get to this in a few posts, but know this: halal certifiers are certifying meat even though they say themselves that it has not been slaughtered in accordance with Sharia law.
That falls a tad short of the definition of trust, but it still gets the halal certified pay cheque.
Unfortunately, over the next few days it will become crystal clear that halal certification schemes do not achieve the objects of certification for the following reasons:
- Halal certified food is not clearly labelled.
- Foods that contain halal ‘positive’ elements produced from an Islamic ritual animal sacrifice in accordance with Sharia law are not clearly labelled.
- Producers and suppliers are reluctant to admit that their food products have been produced from an Islamic ritual animal sacrifice in accordance with Sharia law, or are halal certified.
- Certifying authorities have not been able to demonstrate that they enforce Islamic Sharia law standards rigorously.
- Producers of inherently halal food have no voluntary industry halal code or logo and instead must pay certification fees. These come from your grocery bill.
The result is consumer confusion, a practice that has all the hallmarks of a scam and a multi-million dollar fee paid primarily by the non-Muslim Australian majority.
If all of this sounds like someone is filling their piggy-bank at the expense of yours, I have good news. The federal government is currently holding an inquiry into food labelling and halal certification. That means now is your chance to be heard. Submissions must be lodged by 31 July, 2015.