The Real World of Halal from a Manufacturer’s Viewpoint
Mary Anne Jackson, J&M Food Products Company
What does it mean to be a manufacturer of halal products? What does it mean to be a marketer of halal products? What issues and roadblocks exist to doing it right?
J&M Food Products Company is a manufacturer and marketer of halal-certified shelf stable meals. Customers include institutions, retail stores, web distributors, militaries, disaster relief organizations, etc.
We worked for more than five years with the US military to create a credible halal military ration program. This successful program has been established and in place for eleven years. We also sell to other international militaries such as Canada and some European militaries.
Together with IFANCA, we co-authored a concise manual of halal production issues used by many companies, as well as US and international governmental agencies. This book is copyrighted and was written to help define what is and is not properly certified halal. We found that there were too many differences in the market as to what is properly halal certified vs. what is claimed as halal.
We have a sister company producing kosher meals. The two businesses are unique and separate. However, we cannot discuss the issues of halal certification without a corresponding discussion about kosher. We will use the more mature kosher certification process and marketing as a comparison with what the burgeoning halal marketing and certification process could become. As recently as last week, we were criticized in a blog because we claim there are differences between halal and kosher. The blogger claimed, “Everyone knows that anything labeled as kosher is also halal.” We know that is not true.
As we travel the US and the world, we find the concept and standards of halal claims and certification vary widely. Many consumers concern themselves about halal slaughter while accepting most food products as automatically halal. In contrast, there are others who want to bake, cook and slaughter everything themselves because they do not trust anyone claiming products are halal, whether the company making the halal claim is Muslim-owned or otherwise owned.
There are both Muslim and non-Muslim buyers, importers, and exporters, who trust a piece of paper that claims the product is halal certified without any further investigation. They do not concern themselves as to whether the certifying agency is a reputable agency. There are Jewish kosher certifying agencies that have their products and their slaughter marketed as kosher, but accepted by Muslims as also halal.
There are Muslims signing a kosher certified slaughter or production as halal, although no Muslim is involved. We found halal agencies “certifying” slaughter as halal without ever even walking into the facility; or certifying products without any hands-on information or even without getting detailed information about what the factory does during production of the product in question or the handling of haram or potentially haram ingredients. We found products in stores in UAE claiming the meat meals were halal, presenting a halal certificate for a meat ingredient that was theoretically in the product. We knew the producer and found they never made any halal claim. Yet, the store was making the claim, long after the product was produced. That store is now closed. In other words, no one checked to see if the factory ran products with alcohol or swine ingredients in the morning and then ran the products claimed to be halal. No one checked to see if the products may have been contaminated with non-halal ingredients. No one even checked the ingredients being used.
Just because no alcohol or swine is listed in the ingredients panel does not mean that the product is halal. It may have been compromised during production through the use of the same equipment that processed questionable or haram ingredients earlier. Did a trained Islamic certifier verify what procedures were actually followed? In comparison, in the kosher certification process, maybe the product is kosher by definition because it grew as a gift from God, like tomatoes, for example. But the kosher certifying agencies ask: “how do we know whether or not it was compromised when it was canned”? How will a consumer know? So, what incentive is there for a company to hire a reputable halal certifying agency to be involved in its production processes, to inspect facilities and ingredients and to certify? It is less expensive and less bothersome just to claim halal status for US consumers and to “buy” a halal certificate from a Muslim for exports.
What is a reputable halal agency and what do they do and require? Are there any? Do consumers really care? How can our company and companies like ours which follow strict halal production, cleanliness, and control procedures, compete against companies not getting proper halal inspection? After all, we have the expense and bother of on-site inspectors, and we must investigate all sources of supply and packaging. These questions and issues apply to sales to US customers, as well as to exports to Islamic customers overseas.
Governments are attempting to become enforcers, but they are ineffectual until customers who buy the products demand that suppliers and certifiers prove what is actually done. US, federal, state and local governments and international governments have created laws to help protect halal certification from fraudulent claims. Foreign governments are starting to inspect agencies and their standards. What difference does this bring when no one monitors the market for false claims or for agencies failing to stick to a strict standard? And, we ask, do customers really care, or would they rather not know?
A product may be halal by “definition” like a canned peach packed in its own juices or water, but without a trained, independent evaluation by an Islamic halal certifying agency, the consumers and buyers just do not know for sure if it remained halal during processing. The kosher consuming community requires even these canned peaches be certified as kosher, to be sure nothing forbidden got into the product or touched the product to compromise its religious status. Why would we think that these same peaches do not require similar attention by a trained halal agency to review the production practices and procedures or to set them up to assure halal status?
….For most companies that produce pretty much the same products day after day, halal inspection can be as simple as occasional on-site reviews to assure nothing has changed. For more complicated production, such as for our prepared meals with and without meat, on-site inspection during all phases of production must be performed for proper halal certification. This is what IFANCA and J&M require of our suppliers.
J&M will not accept kosher slaughter as equivalent to halal slaughter, although many halal agencies issue halal certificates on kosher slaughtered meat. Our chicken base must be made only from halal slaughtered chickens. Our halal slaughtered beef and lamb must be further controlled when the meat is deboned, has fat removed and is packaged in boxes for shipping to our next production destination. If a meat or poultry supplier will not let us qualify them as meeting our standards and requirements by allowing IFANCA inspectors into the facility to observe the slaughter and/or packaging procedures, we cannot rely upon that supplier. This has caused us difficulties getting enough supply from reliable US sources. Since we sell to the US military, all our ingredients must be US sourced. Since we usually produce military and non-military products at the same time, we only buy from US sources.
While a product may be halal, it is often not reliably halal, unless a trained and respected halal certifying organization is willing to put its name and reputation on the line to actually “certify” that it is halal. There are about 100,000 kosher certified packaged food products (double that for ingredients) representing nearly 40% of all food products, to feed only 1.1 million consumers including Muslims according to Mintel Research Organization, a kosher research firm. In contrast there are only a few thousand halal certified products. Internationally, the number of halal products increases, but our attention for now is on the US market.
The halal industry still has substantial problems domestically and then also internationally. When we started in the halal business, we projected that within 15 to 20 years, halal certification would develop and consumers would begin demanding true and reliable halal certification by reliable and reputable agencies.
1. Part of the stalling is due to a lack of viable demand from consumers at retail and in institutions. Our thought was that if the US military considered inclusion of proper halal certification important enough to disrupt its logistics and distribution system, then the consumer market would similarly support the effort. This did not happen because so many halal consumers are willing to accept another Muslim’s halal claim without question, or to accept kosher as halal equivalent. For us, we have both kosher and halal businesses so it does not really matter. Yet for prepared foods, it should matter to halal consumers because there are differences.
Kosher allows alcohol ingredients, including soy sauces, flavorings, seasonings, etc., all of which are usually haram. Kosher meat must be hand slaughtered by no one other than a Jew. Dhabiha or Zhabiha halal theoretically must be at the hand of a Muslim. Meat cannot be slaughtered by both religious groups at the same time. If kosher and halal slaughter were the same, then why will kosher consumers not accept halal slaughter as kosher (and then do their own soaking and salting later)? For kosher, a blessing is said at the beginning of the slaughter day. For halal, every animal is blessed at the moment of slaughter. Is either more humane than conventional, non-religious slaughter, avoiding the suffering of the animal? This is a subject of much debate now. Both kosher and halal require equipment to be clean of unacceptable ingredients.
Neither kosher nor halal means a healthier or cleaner production environment, although the kosher community has successfully marketed it as such. For example, I once visited a factory several floors high, making kosher baked goods. It had holes in the floors, partially covered by steel planks, with no lights in the stairwells and only one bathroom for all employees which was in the store front, down the street.
2. Another reason for the halal market’s slow development in the US is, in part, because the halal certification agencies have not created a credible reputation with customers.
Exporters can still “buy” a halal certificate. This is true in many countries, not just in the US. Standards of acceptance vary widely. Kosher slaughter is certified as halal by some agencies, while others, like IFANCA, require halal slaughter to only be by a trained and practicing Muslim. Consumers believe their store’s halal meat is halal, meaning slaughtered by a practicing Muslim. In fact, some meat labeled as halal is actually the back end of kosher animals that the kosher market will not accept as kosher. Halal agencies have not promoted their standards or acceptability. The consumer market and commercial customers have not taken the effort to learn what the standards are. So, the cycle continues. Many non-halal consumers and producers have a negative image of halal. They believe that a Muslim just has to bless the factory to be halal, or can call in a blessing by cell phone or can drive by a blessing. This image damages the credibility of halal certification with non Muslim producers who are deciding whether to contract for halal certification.
3. Agency marketing is important. Every halal certification agency must describe and publish its standards of what it certifies as acceptable and as unacceptable. This can be done immediately by pos ting their standards on their websites. If Muslim consumers do not agree with the standards, then they know not to rely upon that agency’s certification for those types of products. However, until standards are defined, published and marketed to consumers, the agency’s certification is questionable.
Standards must be marketed by each agency in a positive approach as to what practices that agency certifies as acceptable. Criticizing other agencies does nothing to develop the market. Instead, agencies should publish their standards and request the agency using “questionable” practices to do the same. “Fighting it out in the press” further damages the credibility of the halal market with consumers and marketers. This does not mean that each agency must accept all other agency certifications. If one agency either has concerns or cannot determine the validity of the standards of another agency, it does not have to accept the other agency’s certification. The certifying agency of a finished product must feel comfortable all ingredients meet its standards. Its reputation is on that finished product. Consumers need to take steps to learn about the agencies’ standards.
4. Finally, a “guardian” mechanism must be created to make sure that halal certified products in the market are truly as they claim. This mechanism would inform consumers and other manufacturers using halal ingredients of unauthorized halal claims. This mechanism could be accomplished through the Internet or published in a newsletter.
If a marketer or manufacturer misrepresents a product as halal without proper certification by an independent and reputable halal agency, the product will be assumed to be halal to consumers. This misrepresentation must be exposed. If a marketer or manufacturer puts a halal agency’s symbol or name on its product without the knowledge of that certifying agency, or claims certification of the agency in its advertising or store signage, then the guardian group should publish this to consumers and manufacturers. The guardian group should encourage manufacturers and marketers to promote halal status and certification of their products. The agencies should use this means to advertise its standards and to write articles for the guardian’s publication.
The group should list, without commenting or editorializing on its acceptability, all halal agencies and their symbols, if any, to familiarize the market with them. Consumers should make their own decisions about whether to accept the standards based upon the information published by the independent guardian group.
If an agency is found to misrepresent what procedures they follow, the guardian group should report this as well. This guardian group must be completely independent. It could report editorial comments and halal issues, but not promote any individual agency’s standards.
This “guardian” mechanism would take funding. An independent entrepreneur or viable and credible Islamic organization could contact all known agencies to have them fund the creation of a guardian mechanism that would benefit them all. Every agency and all new ones formed would be charged the same funding fee.
Each agency could increase its halal fees from each of its manufacturers, customers, food service operators or restaurants by a few hundred dollars to fund the guardian group. It would benefit the agencies, manufacturers, marketers, exporters and consumers. From there, all agencies, manufacturers and consumers would pay an annual subscription fee.
If you are a manufacturer who does require and follow strict halal standards, you will want to work toward creation and development of the certification process. Then, we all can compete, and our consumers and customers will know what level of halal to expect. And the agencies must decide what standards to follow, and then consistently follow them. Failure to do so would mean a write up in the guardian publication
Conclusion: Thank you very much for your time and consideration. This is important to our company as we continue to work to compete in the halal market both here and internationally. We believe that with the support of IFANCA certification, we can move forward and grow and develop the market and our halal business.
This presentation was made at the IFANCA organized, 9th International Halal Food Conference and Banquet, April 2007.
Mrs. Jackson, President, founded My Own Meals, Inc. (MOM) in 1986 and is the recognized creator of the children’s meals market. In 1993, Jackson introduced J&M® branded, halal certified meals. In 1996, after five years of continuous effort, Jackson introduced these meals to the US military, the first halal certified ration for Muslim American soldiers and international militaries training with the US. She is a CPA and MBA.