The 5th International Halal Food Conference was held in Chicago under the theme The Importance of Halal Certification. After 20 years of providing Halal certification services, you would think why do we need to review the importance of Halal certification. One main reason: more and more multi-national companies are endeavoring to produce Halal products and making the Halal compliance a part of their quality programs.

For Muslims, Halal is a prescription from the Creator and Muslims follow it secure in the knowledge that it is the best dietary standard one can follow. It must be, it was prescribed by the ONE Who Knows Everything.

According to the 2003 edition of the CIA World Factbook, over 1.4 billion of the world’s 6.3 billion people are Muslim. That means over 22% of consumers in the world eat Halal. If you add the non-Muslims who chose to eat Halal and the non-Muslims living in Muslim countries, then 1 out of every 4 consumers is a Halal consumer. The GDP of the Muslim majority countries is over US$ 4 trillion. That is quite a market for goods and services and when it comes to food, the food must be Halal. In the United States and Canada, there are over 8 million Muslims and even more Halal consumers, earning over US$ 300 billion. Of course, there is no question about the Importance of Halal. The discussion in the conference was about the Importance of Halal Certification.

Every system needs some checks and balances. As humans, we sometimes stray from the course as we are bombarded by the daily challenges. Just as the NASD and the SEC watch the stock market and the governing system has three separate branches to keep each other in check and on track, Halal certification keeps the system of food production in balance. When a consumer buys a Halal certified product, they expect the product to be authentically Halal. The certifying body is confirming that the product has met its standard of Halal and is suitable for Halal consumers.

Ideally, there would be one written standard for Halal certification. While the clearly Halal items are known and the clearly Haram items are known, there are some items which are not quite as clear. This has resulted in different Halal certifiers adopting different requirements for certification. In an effort to standardize the process for the food industry, efforts are being made to unify the Halal certification standard. While this is an admirable goal, it will take some time before it can be universally established. At the moment, consumers and producers need to understand the standard adopted by various certifiers and determine which ones match their needs. As technology continues to produce new products and ingredients, the Halal standards will also change to reflect the new developments.

It is important for the industry to know that Halal consumers are serious about Halal certification and will be looking more and more for products and ingredients that are Halal certified. It is also important for Halal consumers to know that the industry will only produce Halal certified products if it recognizes the need and sees the demand. Therefore, Halal consumers must continue to communicate with the food industry so the industry can determine the consumer’s needs. In that way, consumer and producer work together to ensure that the desired products are available in the marketplace, for their mutual benefit.

Halal is a common name in many parts of the world and is becoming a common name in the United States, Canada and Europe. When consumers see the Halal markings, they know they are getting a quality product, that has been supervised by a third party as well as by the manufacturer’s quality control staff. In the majority of Muslim countries, Halal certification of imported food products and food ingredients is mandatory, while in others it enhances the product acceptability by the consumers.

However, most exercise some diligence in screening products and at least making sure the haram ones can be distinguished from the Halal ones. That is not necessarily the case in non-Muslim countries, even ones with a significant number of Halal consumers. In the United States, 5 states have passed Halal legislation that protects Halal consumers from fraud. Other states are working on similar legislation. A predominantly Muslim region in China has also passed similar legislation. However, most of the countries of the world do not have any protection for the Halal consumer. It is up to the Halal consumers to make sure they check the products ask the necessary questions and avoid haram products as best they can.

To all the Halal consumers who ask about the acceptability of various products, we say, “Keep on asking us. We are happy to respond. But the best advice we can give is: Insist on Halal certified products from the food producers and work with your legislators to pass Halal laws in your state, province or country.” [RMO]