Halal Food Laws
Roger M. Othman
During the past year, Halal has come to the forefront of industry, educational institutions and even State government. For many years, astute food producers have been enjoying the benefits of marketing Halal products to Muslims around the world. Until the last decade, most Halal products were produced for export to predominantly Muslim countries. Over these past 10 years, food manufacturers and retailers have realized the potential of the local Muslim consumer. Food producers have taken notice of the 8 million Muslims in America, the 18 million in Europe and the hundreds of millions in Africa, the Middle East and in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Even local shops are paying attention to the local Muslim population as evidenced by the Amigos Mexican Grill, a Mexican Restaurant in Seattle, converting to an all-Halal menu. Food vendors are realizing the benefits of marketing Halal products.
As the Halal momentum increases, we have seen school districts with large populations of Muslim students start studying ways of incorporating Halal meals in their cafeteria menus. And over the past year, we have seen Halal make it to a number of State legislatures. Of course, all these changes and all this momentum is an indication that Muslim consumers are letting the “powers to be” know that they need Halal certified products. Industry has realized the profit opportunities this presents, schools systems are recognizing that students requiring Halal food are not receiving the nourishment they need during the day, and this may affect their performance at school, which reflects poorly on the school itself, colleges and universities are recognizing this is becoming one of the criteria used by Muslim students when selecting a college, and government is recognizing that many of their constituents are Halal consumers and interest in Halal legislation is part of their public service to these constituents. The activity has been a win-win situation for everyone!
The first State to get the ball rolling was the State of New Jersey, which passed a Halal Food Law in July of 2000. This was a tribute to the Muslims in New Jersey and to Brother Riza Dagli, who was instrumental in working with the sponsors of the bill to get it passed. Governor Christine Whitman signed the bill in a local Masjid.
Next came the State of Minnesota, which passed the Halal Food law in February 2001. And just last April, Illinois joined the race by passing their own Halal Food Law. In general, the laws make it unlawful to deceive consumers into believing any product is Halal if it is not truly Halal. They require the vendors of Halal products (stores, restaurants, manufacturers, etc.) to be able to supply evidence to support their claim that the item is Halal. the laws do not define Halal, this is left to the Halal experts; they just say you have to have believable evidence that the product is Halal. this would be a certificate from an authentic Halal certifying agency, Islamic entities or Islamic scholars. While the New Jersey and Minnesota laws are limited to the final food products, the Illinois law goes up the line to the farm as well. It makes it an offense to falsely represent any animal to be grown in a Halal way if it is not so. These laws should help eliminate or reduce any fraudulent Halal products that may out there.
Other states that are considering similar legislation include California, Michigan, New York, Texas and Virginia.
We have received a number of inquiries from Halal consumers in other states asking for advice on how to get Halal initiatives in their states. First of all, you need to have a clear picture of what you want to achieve. Next, you need to present yourself and your needs to your local State Representative or Senator. It helps if you already have a relationship with them, so you may want to cultivate one before you present your halal initiative. Of course, having the community support will make your task easier. If you can draft a blueprint of the law, that will also help. We should also realize that all state already have watchdog institutions that monitor food fraud, so this legislation will not cost the state anything. On the contrary, it may actually boost state revenues if it helps build a Halal industry. Remember, the Muslim population is growing and non-Muslims are also enjoying the wholesomeness of Halal products. A law that reduces fraud will help increase sales and export opportunities. Finally, the most important thing is to make the effort. You will be surprised how easy it may be, once you put forth the effort.
As an aid to those who are interested, we are printing a copy of the Illinois Halal Food Law. Good luck to you all out there and a hearty thanks to all those who worked to produce the existing Halal laws, all the activists, the legislators, the Halal producers and of course, the Halal consumers!