SOME FACTS ABOUT HALAL CERTIFICATION
Australia is a multicultural and religiously tolerant country with a diverse population. Australia is also an important food exporter to many countries in the Asian region, and further afield, which are home to significant Muslim populations. Of particular significance to observant Muslims is the consumption of ‘halal’ (or ‘lawful’) and the avoidance of ‘haram’ (or ‘unlawful’) food and drink.
For a food or beverage to be halal, it must be:
- free from any substance taken or extracted from a haram animal or ingredient (e.g. pigs, dogs, carnivorous animals, animals not slaughtered in compliance with Islamic rites);
- made, processed, manufactured and/or stored by using utensils, equipment and/or machinery that has been cleaned according to Islamic law (e.g. not cleaned with alcohol); and
- free from contact with, or being close to, a haram substance during preparation, manufacture, processing and storage (e.g. blood, alcohol, poisonous and intoxicating plants and certain insects such as worms and cockroaches).
Many foods and drinks, particularly those that do not contain meat or alcohol, are inherently halal. Other products can be halal if care is exercised in selecting and sourcing ingredients and by the adoption of appropriate manufacturing and handling procedures.
Australian food manufacturers can, if they wish, seek halal certification of their products, facilities and processes from appropriate Islamic religious authorities. 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 (eg 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.
Halal Certification Q and A
What does Halal certification mean?
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.
Does the AFGC provide, or support, halal certification?
The AFGC is not a religious organisation and does not provide certification services for product claims. The AFGC neither encourages nor discourages it members regarding halal certification. As with any certification, each manufacturer or brand owner needs to decide for itself whether the commercial benefits of halal certification outweigh the costs.
Can non-Muslim people consume halal-certified food and drinks?
Non-Muslims have been eating halal foods for centuries without harm! Many foods (for example, fruits, nuts and vegetables) are inherently halal for Muslims. Certification does not change the nature of such foods, it simply assures observant Muslims that the food or drink complies with their religious rules around food content and preparation. It is the same as food certified as being organic or gluten free – for some people it is important to know, but anyone can eat it.
Do foods in Australia have to be halal certified?
No. It is up to the manufacturer whether or not to make a halal claim for a particular product. A manufacturer can also claim that a food is halal without the claim needing to be certified (the Australian Consumer Law prohibits any false, misleading or deceptive claims). Certification simply provides third party assurance that the claim is valid. It is up to manufacturers to decide whether the marketing benefits of certification outweigh the costs.
A product I often buy has now been halal certified – what has been done to it?
In many cases, nothing! Many existing manufacturing processes and product ingredients are already compliant with halal standards. Halal certification in such cases simply informs observant Muslims that a religious body has endorsed the product for consumption. In other cases, manufacturers may change production processes (for example, replacing alcohol as a cleaning agent with an alternative) or change ingredients in order to achieve certification. If you have a question about a specific product, it’s best to ask the manufacturer.
Why do manufacturers seek halal certification of food and drinks?
There can be a number of reasons. One main reason is that the product is, or is planned to be, sold in an export market where halal certification is important. Another is to communicate to observant Muslims in the domestic market that the food meets the relevant religious requirements. Just like organic certifications, there is a target audience from whom the certification is important, even if it is of no interest or relevance to the rest of the population.
How do I find out whether a product is halal certified?
The best way to know if a product is halal certified is to check the label. As halal certification generally applies to production sites and processes as well as the finished product, the same food or drink manufactured at different sites around Australia may vary in terms of its halal certification status. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
I’ve heard halal certification funds illegal activity
Organisations who offer halal certification services are subject to the same prohibitions on funding illegal entities and activity as any other organisation or individual under Australian law. Any specific evidence of illegal activity should be provided to the Australian Federal Police.
Why should I have to pay for certification on the products I buy?
In the same way as organic certifications or the National Heart Foundation ‘tick’ logo, manufacturers only obtain halal certification if it is worth their while to do so. Australia’s food manufacturing industry is highly competitive and exposed to competition from imports, so manufacturers do not pay for certifications they cannot use. So when manufacturers consider whether to seek halal certification, they consider whether the marketing benefits of certification outweigh the costs involved. In other words, certification is only worthwhile if it will increase sales opportunities to a broader range of consumers, either domestically or in export markets. In most cases, this means that the costs of certification are highly unlikely to influence product pricing, and so consumers do not end up paying any more for certified product.
There can be higher costs in relation to fresh meat intended for export markets with large Islamic populations, but in most cases certification is only sought for those processing facilities that deal with meat for export. There are many meat processing facilities in Australia that are not halal certified, so competition again limits the ability for certification costs to be passed on in the domestic market.