Halal: meat not traceable
“The halal industry in general suffers from deficiencies in the traceability of meat products, which creates a risk of error and manipulation. Generally, it is not possible in the consumer context to identify that a meat product is halal, unless packaged with a halal marking.” This is one of the findings of the Independent Halal Review Panel (IHRP), who on Wednesday released their 60 page report on the halal certification operations of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC).
However, in a section dedicated to the general halal industry – which the IHRP said it was unable to ignore – it recommended the application of tamper proof tagging at the point of slaughter and/or the point of cutting to eliminate manipulation. According to the report, there were presently systems in use in other jurisdictions that could serve as a model for South Africa.
The report identified various categories of meat sellers with different levels of concern about maintaining the halal chain. This had been at the crux of the Orion meat scandal last year where imported products were relabelled with fake halal emblems, repackaged and then sold. In some case pork products were relabelled as veal with a generic halal label added on the box after the original labels were removed.
“We have been informed of unverified allegations that some sellers of meat request their suppliers to import products from foreign plants with foreign halal certification recognised by local halal certifiers. The seller in certain cases requests the supplier to obtain halal certification from a local authority, in addition to the foreign certificate. In other cases, the seller dispenses with local halal certification, and suffices with the foreign halal certificate,” the IHRP reported.
According to the IHRP, where there are multiple consignments, the seller sometimes requests local halal certification for a limited number of consignments only, and not all consignments imported at its request. “In the latter event, there is a possibility that the consignments without local certification might be retailed under the halal branding of a local halal certifier, even if that local halal certifier certified only a portion of the consignments in question.”
Generic halal branding
The IHRP said it had learned from these unverified allegations that some sellers of meat – including Muslim traders – request their suppliers to import products from foreign plants with foreign halal certification, not recognised locally. “These traders do not require the importer to obtain local certification as they claim to have taken adequate steps to verify the integrity of the foreign halal certification. These products are packaged using generic halal branding and sold to the consumer.”
There were also some sellers – including Muslims – who had little concern for the halal certification of imported products and instruct suppliers to import them from plants regardless of certification. These too are packaged using generic halal branding before being sold locally as halal. These unverified allegations – which have long been rumoured – have caused general mistrust of imported products as reflected on the latest VOC online poll where 68% said they did not trust “halal” imports at all. 16% trusted it somewhat, 7% trusted it a bit, while 5% trusted it a lot and 1% trusted it completely.
In this regard, the IHRP recommended that all outlets – irrespective of whether it is owned but Muslims or not – should be endorsed by a local halal certifier. “This will close the door to abuse by participants in the halal supply chain – whether importer, wholesaler, retailer or processor. Sellers of imported products should be certified only if there is adequate traceability of their products to consignments that have been locally certified. The unverified allegations referred to above should be the subject of further investigation,” the report added.
Another loophole was the fact that certifiers differ in the halal standards that they apply due to differences in fatwas concerning certain requirements. “The adoption of common standards should be explored to ensure that there is consistency in halal certification in South Africa and the National Halal Forum’s work in this regard is noted. Common standards would eliminate ‘regulatory arbitrage’ by suppliers of halal products.
“The halal standards adopted by certifiers should be published on their respective websites to ensure transparency and empower consumers to make an informed choice,” the report recommended. The report went further to urge consumers to organise themselves into local and national halal consumer associations that can provide feedback to halal certifiers and providers of halal products and services.
In addition, the IHRP stressed the need for the establishment of an independent halal ombudsman. “The function of the ombud would be to oversee and regulate all institutions offering halal certification and halal products and services, with the power to issue penalties. Any excess revenues could be invested into research on halal products and services.” Furthermore, the report recommended that the rearing of animals and their treatment prior to slaughter should be given greater attention by certifiers. “In particular, the use of haram feeds should be investigated,” it said.
Concluding its report, the IHPR said that the MJCHT has maintained a halal certification operation over an extended period of time. “From relatively informal beginnings, these operations have evolved into a multi?faceted process, operating in a complex business environment. This has created new challenges that must be addressed to ensure that the integrity of halal certification operations is maintained.” Amongst other matters, the points raised in the IHRP report revolve around the need for consistency in halal certification processes and documentation of those processes.
“Too much reliance is placed on verbal communication and goodwill. The lack of a comprehensive halal certification manual means that certification processes are determined by the corporate memory of the MJCHT as contained in the minds of the MJCHT’s key individuals and the records that they maintain for these purposes. In these circumstances, inconsistencies are inevitable as the corporate memory is not independently and objectively determinable at any point in time.”
Similarly, the IHRP said, the lack of a comprehensive and systematic set of documentary tools to be used by inspectors and other personnel in processing and monitoring the certification process means once again that corporate memory as contained in the minds of the MJCHT’s key individuals and the records that they maintain for these purposes determines the integrity of the process. As this corporate memory is not objectively determinable and is not always accessible, inconsistencies inevitably arise.
Checks & Balances
“In view of the complexity of contemporary business practices, robust checks and balances are necessary. These checks and balances must extend to both the internal structures and functions of the MJCHT and the requirements prescribed for clients who seek or who have obtained halal certification. A consistently applied documented process is critical to demonstrate the integrity of halal certification operations, on the basis of objective reference points that can be externally verified. The above highlights the importance of bringing together an appropriate skills base to ensure that systems and processes develop in line with the challenges and risks in the environment in which the MJCHT operates.”
As such, the IHRP suggested that the MJCHT establish a professional team to advise the MJCHT on any additional issues of relevance, and develop a project plan for implementation of the recommendations set out in this report and such additional issues. “More importantly, we suggest that independent experts be appointed to monitor and report on implementation so as to ensure that the process maintains momentum,” the IHRP concluded.
Meanwhile, VOC was informed that the MJCHT had been in meetings this week to consider the report and will be issuing a response as soon as these deliberations have been completed.