What is halal certification for meat and non-meat products?

Halal is an Arabic word that translates to 'permissible' in English in contrast with haram, which translates to 'forbidden'
Last Updated 20 October 2022, 12:22 IST

Pro-Hindu organisations called for a "halal-free" Diwali in Karnataka on Oct. 18, demanding segregation of halal and non-halal food items at the outlets of multinational food chains. Some branches of eateries like KFC and McDonald's saw demonstrations. This is not the first pushback against halal meat that the state has seen. BJP National General Secretary C T Ravi likened halal to "economic jihad" earlier this year.

"It means that it is used like a jihad so that Muslims should not do business with others," PTI quoted Ravi as saying. "It has been imposed. When they think that halal meat should be used, what is wrong in saying that it should not be used?"

Such sentiments have found voices across India. In April this year, a petition was filed with the Supreme Court calling for a complete ban on halal products and halal certifications. The petitioner said that the halal certification was first introduced in 1974 for slaughtered meat and was limited to meat products until 1993. It was then expanded to other items like cosmetics and daily essentials such as soaps and shampoos.

So, what is halal?

Halal is an Arabic word that translates to "permissible" in English in contrast with haram, which translates to "forbidden". Halal applies not only to the slaughter of animals for consumption but also to the process of manufacturing products so as to make them compatible with Islamic beliefs.

When slaughtering meat in keeping with halal guidelines, a sharp knife has to be used to make an incision at the front of the throat, oesophagus, and jugular veins but not the spinal cord. The head of the animal is aligned with the qiblah in Mecca and during slaughter, the basmalah Islamic prayer has to be spoken. The slaughter has to be done by a Muslim man. Animals that die under distressing conditions or circumstances different from this specified method of slaughter are considered haram and should not be eaten, according to Islamic law.

Animals that are not on the banned list are also made halal through the process of 'dhabihah'. This is to ensure the most humane method of slaughter since the Prophet Muhammad said, "... when you slaughter an animal, do it in the best possible way; and any of you should sharpen his blade so that the animal may be spared from the suffering of the slaughtering". In the halal process, the animal set for slaughter is always well-fed, cared for and devoid of sickness, according to Halalwatchworld.org.

In the case of other items, halal methods indicate that no haram products can be used in the making of that particular item. For example, the use of pig fat would make an item haram since the animal is considered as such by Muslims. As per Shari'ah law, a business that is run using illegal funds ceases to be halal.

What is halal certification?

Halal certification is a guarantee that the food is prepared in accordance with Islamic law and is unadulterated. If a product contains animals or animal byproducts that are considered haram, then it cannot receive a halal certification. In India, this certification is usually provided by a third-party body. The petition before the Supreme Court specified that the Jamiat-Ulama-E-Maharashtra and the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust were two such major organisations operating in India. There is no legal authority that provides the certificate, unlike in Arab countries where a magistrate grants the halal certification.

How does one obtain the halal certification?

As per Halalwatchworld.org, the four core principles that guide the certification process are sanitation, traceability, integrity and composition. These extend to various environments that include restaurants, grocery stores and manufacturers.

The tools that are used for both halal and non-halal products must be adequately sanitised so that no traces of the latter remain when handling the former. Halal products must be traceable during the manufacturing process so that they are accounted for. Manufacturers must also disclose relevant information about materials used to the certification body. The integrity of the product can be guaranteed by adhering to government and industry standards and interestingly, the petition to the Supreme Court argued that the halal certification should be provided by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. To obtain halal certification, the composition of the product cannot include haram ingredients.

In India, after one applies for the certificate, there is an audit process and the halal certificate is then granted.

Why is halal certification needed?

The halal certification helps consumers identify products that adhere to halal dietary restrictions. As per Research and Markets, the global halal food market is growing exponentially and is expected to show a compound annual growth rate of 11.24 per cent during 2022-2027. Thus, several companies wishing to export their products to a larger consumer base opt to get the halal certification. Haldirams, the Indian multinational sweets, snacks and restaurant company, is halal-certified.

Despite the obvious economic advantages of being halal-certified, the Indian government, in 2021, dropped the word 'halal' from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority's red meat manual, which outlined the contours of meat exports. While the older version read, "The animals are slaughtered strictly according to the 'halal' method to meet the requirement of Islamic countries", the government revised it to say, "The animals are slaughtered to the requirement of the importing country/importer".

This came amid clamouring from Hindu factions that having the word 'halal' gave Muslim exporters an unfair advantage. These complaints have persisted since Muslims are primarily the only ones allowed to slaughter halal meat. Exceptions exist for Christians and Jews if they slaughter the meat following certain instructions. The latter's equivalent to halal is kosher.

Despite reservations concerning halal products that might exist in India, the economic benefits of being able to export to nearly 117 countries are too big to ignore. Singer Lucky Ali highlighted this point when responding to Ravi's comment via a Facebook post that said: "If the people are so bothered by the word 'halal', they should just remove it from their counters but one can't foresee whether the sales would be the same as they were used to".

(Published 20 October 2022, 06:21 IST)

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