5th International Halal Food Conference Proceedings 1: Halal Certification — Learning From Experience
A Summary of Presentation by Joe M. Regenstein, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science, Cornell University
In developing systems, it is often useful to look at the experience of others. The same holds true for Halal Certification. It may be useful to look at the experience of other groups that have been certifying products. One such experience is that of Kosher. There are many agencies offering certification and there are many standards. Some are based on geography, others on real differences and some are just there for the money.
The differences are good for accommodating different community beliefs but make it difficult for the food industry to interchange products and ingredients. It is important to have clear standards and to implement those standards. If the standard does not meet the needs of all members of the community, it may be useful to identify these products.
Halal certified products should be identifiable. This may be achieved by having the word Halal printed on the product or by using the letter H. however, this generic identification does not provide information on who the Halal certifier is, so it may be difficult to determine what standard they are following. Companies may prefer to use the generic H so as not to alienate other customers. Another way of marking products is with a specific symbol used by the certifying agency. The symbol should be trademarked and use of it should be monitored and protect so consumers maintain confidence in the symbol. IFANCA’s Crescent M is such a trademarked symbol.
Certifying organization may be local or national. Local certifiers can better reflect local standards but may limit marketing, especially for packaged goods. It would be best if there were a ‘Normative Standard’ that can be used universally with minor deviations. This would be helpful to the food industry and the consumer. An international standard would be best.
Many Muslim countries monitor Halal products. Some even have established a standard that must be followed. This may limit internal diversity. The United States, through the US Department of Agriculture, authenticates the legitimacy of Halal certification, but permits diversity leaving the task to the certifying organizations.
Some of the key issues for supervision are having clear standards; providing friendly service to industry and the consumer; recognizing the certified product must generate profits for the producer and that providing supervision is an ethical obligation and must be done properly. Staff should be well trained, service must be timely and accurate; fees must be reasonable and surprises must be avoided.
It is critical that ingredients be investigated before they are accepted as Halal. if they are not Halal certified, they need to be re-evaluated periodically to ensure they retain their acceptable status. IFANCA is to be complimented for setting up an advisory committee to keep up with such issues.
The lessons of the past suggest the food industry and the certifiers need to work together to make religious supervision successful. The supervision agency must follow food technology changes and be prepared to work with the industry in a manner that reduces any disruptions. The food industry must recognize that technology changes have consequences and they should work closely with religious supervisors to avoid disruptions. Even if the producer is not certified, their customers may be certified and changes will affect them.
It is best if all products are certified, even if they don’t appear to require it. This provides the best protection for everyone.
When it comes to meat, it is important that religious slaughter is done properly. Animal welfare issues are becoming important in the US and Europe and religious slaughter is often targeted by animal rights groups. When implemented properly, religious slaughter is more humane than the ‘so called’ humane slaughter. The Cornell Northeast Sheep and Goat program is designing a low cost Halal slaughter pen for farms and small packing houses. Also, a humane/halal slaughter poster is being developed in English, Arabic, Spanish and Persian. In addition, the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Religious and Ethnic Foods Division, focuses on information sharing with respect to religious and ethnic foods. All IFT members are encouraged to join the division. For more information please contact me at JMR9@cornell.edu.