18/1/13 Behalal.org Team
Amid fears that Halal products may also be affected by the recent findings by the Food Standards Agency of Ireland, the attention of Muslims have moved to the standards and operations of Halal certification organisations worldwide that confirm that the end product indeed is halal.
The recent findings are violations of secular law irrespective of whether the end product was halal or not and the authorities have an obligation to investigate and remove the products to maintain product integrity. What about the responsibility and accountability of Halal certification organisations?
What checks d the Halal certification bodies do to maintain the integrity of Halal products. Well that’s the claim they make. The certifiers range from one-man operations to those that employ over 100 personal. Then there are the actual standards that vary between them; others don’t even have them. These standards can vary from country to country and depends on the differing school of Islamic thought.
In recent years there has been a steady surge of Halal accreditation organisations and many people argue it’s become a money making business. That’s fine as long as they do their job, i.e., provide good halal certification. With a lack of robust procedures, regular checks and competent personal they betray the consumer choosing products labeled as Halal.
The BIG question is do they have REAL standards?
The horse and pork DNA findings have highlighted that microscopic amounts of contamination can be found in meats (assuming that the tests have been and will be properly validated) and that unless this level of testing is carried out that the risk of cross-contamination does exist. Do halal certifications bodies actually do their own testing?
Halal Certification Organisations need to change
Are and will Halal certification organisations continue to put consumers at risk by allowing halal products to be produced on the same lines as those used for the production of non-halal products e.g., where pork has gone through the processing equipment. The problem here is that the equipment is often very intricate and difficult to clean as demonstrated by the recent DNA testing. No amount of cleaning or supervision by monitors on site can stop all of this cross-contamination from occurring. That is the hard lesson to be learnt here!
As urgent investigations continue to take place, the idea of finding horse and pork in beef or chicken conjures up images of horse or pig meat mixed into burgers but other scenarios are possible. Global ID in 2011 found pig DNA in paper used to pack Halal products and established that it came from animal fat being used as a machine lubricant.
In June 2010, we sent questionnaires to 9 halal certification organisations based in theUK. We received replies from 3 of them. The two well-known and largest certifiers HMC and HFA didn’t complete the questionnaire to our surprise and great disappointment. Nevertheless, we are still waiting for them all to complete the questionnaires so that we can share with consumers, so that they can have a better idea of their standards and how they determine that foods with their certification mark meet those standards. The websites of these certifying agences cannot show all the information and complexities, but they should be sufficiently detailed so that consumers can determine what standards they have and how they go about their supervision. For example, do they have competentant staff that understand and can check the actual ingredients? It needs a person that’s is or is at least trained to the same level as a chemist. Thus, some listing of the training of their staff would provide some guidance. How many actually hire a properly certified laboratory to carry out DNA testing? And then do this routinely for all of the companies using minced meats? How many actual monitor the lubricants used on machines in a halal plant to be assured that products containing pork-based fats are not being used? Those are the current burning question. (Depending on the country, chemical laboratories can either be certified by the government or by a respected national organization.)
Problems to continue
Unless the Muslim community is properly prepared to only use halal certified products from certifying organisations that have robust standards, this type of problem will continue to happen.
Then there’s the argument if they are so incompetent what’s the point? There is a definitely a case to support the need to have certification bodies that certify halal products because of the complexity of the chemistry of ingredients, technology and processing that only an organisation with very robust systems in place and that have trained and competent staff can do to protect the Muslim consumer.
Mohammad Amir, European Halal Development Agency’s (EHDA) Technical Manager, stated that food processing is a complex process. It is the responsibility of Halal certifying bodies to understand the complexity of the food process and to have their auditing and certification schemes based on principles of an Identity Preservation (IP) Certification System. This means that the original source of the product is verified as Halal and this identity needs to be preserved and verified at each stage of the supply chain. The IP certification system has become vital in a modern food processing system where Halal and Haram products may share the same commercial environment, where the risk of cross-contamination becomes inevitable. Mr Amir also stressed that an audit should be conducted by qualified Muslim auditors who understand the complexity of food processing. Modern food processing affects the halal status of all foods. It is not only limited to doubts related to the stunning of animals at the time of slaughter. There are many doubtful ingredients, i.e., where their sources or origin cannot be determined as Halal without proper supervision. These potentially animal fat from animals not slaughtered halal and/or pork based ingredients include: gelatine, emulsifiers, mono- and di-glycerides, lecithin, glycerine, protein isolates, , fortifying agents, flavourants, colourants, flour improving enzymes, keratin, charcoal (e.g., from bones), amino acids, Calcium phosphate, water retention agents, cheese and other dairy derivatives such aswhey powder, and lactose powder., and many other ingredients. Another doubtful category that requires attention is processing aids, which are not required by food labeling law to be listed in the ingredients statement.
Consumer and Muslim Community Responsibility
Many people point out that in the end this is a failure of the Muslim community to take its food supply seriously. Halal products need complete traceability. There is a need for supervision to maintain the chain of custody that starts at the slaughter-house and the primary manufacture of ingredients.
This incident should be seen as a wake-up call for consumers choosing to buy Halal products and for hard questions to be asked of the certification organisations about what are they actually doing and to call for greater transparency. The fact that meat is adulterated is a government problem but where certification bodies have stepped in to check and verify that Halal standards are met then the finger certainly points their way also.
At the end of the day the Muslim consumers have to take the responsibility themselves if they are choosing to buy products from companies where the Halal certification organisations endorsing the processing plants or products don’t have the qualified staff to carry out the ingredient checks and understand the processes, and where no regular Muslim inspection is carried out and where non-halal meats/ingredients are on the same premises or lines of production. If they accept such products, then are they genuinely keeping Halal? The industry and the Halal consumers deserve better. And this will only happen when Muslim consumers simply refuse to accept products that they cannot be certain are Halal. There is work to do.