Australia prides itself on its freedom and its prosperity. As such, every cobber and his dog should have the freedom to choose from a wide array of high quality tucker. And under Australian laws, individuals are supposed to have the freedom to practice their own religious beliefs without being coerced into adhering with or financially contributing to religious beliefs that they do not support or follow. Or so you’d think.
But as far as the theory goes, it is simple enough to understand.
In particular, freedom from religious coercion is underpinned by Section 116 of the Australian constitution. This clause prohibits the Commonwealth from establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance and prohibiting the free exercise of religion. For the uninitiated, it’s also worth noting that a particular religion was already legally recognised and therefore ‘established’ at the time of Federation: Christianity. It’s a long story but it does involve this bit of trivia. Our Queen carries the legal title ‘Defender of the Faith’. It’s a notion with a foundation. In fact, this title was first given to King Henry VIII by the Pope way back in 1521 for his defence, of all things, of the seven sacraments (including marriage).
But lest we leap down this particularly apt rabbit hole, given the state of public debate in Australia today, let’s return to the topic of religious freedom under Australian laws.
Religious freedom should also be theoretically protected to some extent by state-based anti-discrimination laws. However, this statement does rest on the assumption that our state and federal anti-discrimination commissions actually do their job. They don’t.
Anyway, it is allegedly unlawful in Queensland to discriminate on the basis of religious belief, including in the provision of goods and services. It is therefore arguable that supermarkets breach anti-discrimination laws if they supply food that is prepared only in accordance with one religious belief, or if they fail to disclose the religious nature of the food products they sell, particularly if the majority of customers do not hold that belief and the supermarket does not qualify for any exemptions to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act (1991).
So with this theory lesson out of the way, let’s look at the practical application to halal certification. These laws should mean that the Muslim minority can pay for all the halal certified food that they can eat. And the non-Muslim majority should be free to avoid Sharia compliant food to their heart’s content.
The former is happening. That’s a tick for the minority.
But the latter is not because there is simply no way that the bulk of Australian consumers can make a choice. There is simply no proper labelling of halal food. So that’s a cross for the majority.
And, in the process, every time you file through the check out the halal certifiers get a cheque out of it too.
So there is a good reason for the Senate to be holding an inquiry into food labelling.
Let’s hope it starts by understanding the two primary aims of food certification schemes.
- They should provide consumers with information and certainty.
- They should provide producers with an opportunity to advertise that their products meet rigorous standards.
I strongly supports the principle of food certification schemes when they meet these objects. When these objects are met, freedom of choice over the food we eat – a basic necessity of life – is enhanced.
In general, food certification schemes in Australia are focused on safety and dietary considerations: use by dates, healthy food standards, allergenic and medical issues and dietary information. Other certification schemes relate to food production, such as the living conditions of animals, use of chemicals in farming processes and the Australian-produced content of food.
Halal certification schemes differ because they are focused on Islamic beliefs; they fuse food and Sharia law. These schemes have nothing to do with food quality. Instead, they operate to ensure that food is not just food, but also an Islamic religious product, particularly in relation to meat.
Now, like most Australians, I do not oppose the right of Muslim consumers to benefit from halal certification schemes in themselves. However, it all becomes a bit too much when the benefit of halal certification enjoyed by Muslims comes at the expense of the rest of us. There are numerous examples of this and I will be writing about them over the coming days.
But when it comes to halal certification and food labelling, we have a clear market failure. As such, halal certification schemes are not meeting the objects of food certification.
- Halal certification is not providing consumers with information.
- Halal certification is not providing producers with the ability to market their products as meeting rigorous standards.
Furthermore, while halal certification itself is confusing and chaotic, three things are clear.
- The vast majority of consumers are being coerced into adhering with the dictates of a religion that most Australians do not practice by effectively being forced to unknowingly purchase food – particularly meat – that is not just food, but the product of an Islamic ritual animal sacrifice in accordance with Sharia law.
- Consumers are unknowingly funding mosques and other Islamic projects (including overseas) when they purchase halal certified food.
- Producers and food outlets are seeking halal certification ostensibly in order to expand into export markets, while at the same time failing to disclose this certification to Australian consumers, probably on the basis that doing so would affect domestic sales.
And in the midst of this, the unreasonable has been normalised: food production for domestic consumption in Australia has become unreasonably skewed towards meeting the demands of Australia’s Islamic minority.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2.2% of Australians identified as being affiliated with the Islamic religion at the 2011 census. That means that 97.8% of the rest of have no reason for certification, Sharia law slaughter and Islamic prayer rooms at abattoirs.
It also means that it should be reasonable to expect the following:
- The demand for food that specifically meets Islamic Sharia law requirements would be very low and equating to about 2% of food produced for Australian domestic consumption.
- Any costs associated with meeting the demand for food that meets Islamic Sharia law requirements should be met by those wishing to consume this food. That would be Muslims.
- The availability of food products especially produced in accordance with Islamic Sharia law requirements that dictate some method of production that differs from normal food production in Australia (such as an animal sacrifice to Allah) would be relatively limited, while the norm would be food that was not produced in accordance with these requirements.
However, food production in Australia does not reflect these reasonable expectations. For instance, the domestic cost recovery for halal certified products comes primarily from non-Muslim consumers because they make up about 98% of those who consume domestically halal certified products.
In another example, all the main suppliers of chicken meat for domestic consumption in Australia are halal certified. This means that the vast bulk of chicken meat in Australia is produced from an Islamic ritual animal sacrifice in accordance with Sharia law. Consequently, instead of a minority of Muslims seeking specific chicken meat products at specialty stores that cater for their religious beliefs, it is the majority of non-Muslim Australians who must now seek specialty suppliers if they do not want to eat chicken meat that has been sacrificed to the Islamic god, Allah. The unreasonable has been normalised and, as a result, Australians are effectively being coerced into contributing financially to Islamic programs and adhering to Islamic religious beliefs in relation to food.
Quite simply, when it comes to halal certification, the Australian majority are jumping to the Sharia tune of the minority. This has to stop. And it can be stopped if you have your say.
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.