Importing halal meat: Is halal label reliable?

 06 Aug 2017 - 12:15

Muslims comprising 23% of the world total population of 6.8 billion people, import 80% of their food from Australia, New Zealand, EU, and North and South America. Officials from Muslim countries visit production plants in these countries, make business deals, and meat and poultry products displaying “halal” logo that supposedly satisfies consumers about the meat being Sharia compliant, start flowing back to Muslim countries. The question that begs answer is: Is it really so?

For an answer, let’s review the process: With a few exceptions, halal meat products in these countries are prepared in the same plants, under private labeling, where non-halal products are routinely produced. To occasionally switch to halal meat production the interested plant first secures the accreditation of a halal certification organisation by agreeing to comply with its halal standards.

To ensure reliability, importing Muslim countries require that the halal certification organisation under whose supervision the products are produced issue a halal certificate to accompany each consignment destined to Muslim countries declaring that meat and poultry products have been prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements and that the halal chain has been maintained through all phases of production of the final product. The question is: is this system working as intended, or does it need a tune-up?  

A look at a typical report from an importing country raises some pointed questions, such as: discrepancy in the date of slaughter and meat quantity as found on the certificate and on the packaging list; rather than providing the original certificate a copy is furnished with the consignment; certificates do not accompany the consignment; correction and re-correction of information; and some companies produce numerous “certificates” trying to correct a lapse. These findings clearly show that the current certification system is fragmented, unreliable, and needs improvement.  

Given the existing state of halal meat production, consumers have every right to ask the importer if a verifiable written program is being used for the production of halal-certified products, as these programs serve as checks and balances. It includes information that can be tracked, monitored, and verified. This type of information can also be used to ascertain the ability of a halal certification organisation to monitor and verify the Islamic requirements. This way the consumers can be sure that they are buying meat products that were produced under the supervision of a credible halal certification organisation.

We should also remember that our goal is not just to improve the current certification system but also to achieve long-term food security, because the Muslim population is projected to grow 73% by 2050.

To achieve it we need to invest in agricultural industries such as livestock farms, poultry farms, feed mills, and modern slaughter and processing plants. According to a report in the July 2014 issue of National Geographic, big corporations are reportedly grabbing up large tracts of land on the planet’s hungriest continent–Africa–to convert it into the future breadbasket of the world.  Are Muslim corporations also ready to overcome decades of inertia and actually doing something to be self-sufficient by establishing a future breadbasket?   

Dr Mohammad Abdullah retired after serving 29 years with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (USDA, FSIS), the agency that regulates the meat industry. He is the author of “A Closer look at Halal meat from farm to fork” (2016). It is available online at amazon.com and other vendors.