I’m writing this because I’m sick to death of the misinformation about Halal (also spelt Halaal) certification in Australia. There are people who are militating against Halal certification using incorrect information and some are intentionally using misinformation. Some of those sources are the ugly fascist and neo-nazi groups (see: Neo-nazis, white-supremacists, islamophobic groups active in Australia via the Internet.) who have no scruples in creating fear about race or culture.
Halal simply means what is permisible by Islamic law.
Slaughter of animals for meat is one use of Halal certification. The slaughter itself is done the same as Jewish Kosher slaughter, if you want a brief description of how it is done go here https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/08/what-does-halal-method-animal-slaughter-involve. The cost is in certifying that the slaughter is done properly, including that it must not cause undue harm to the animal.
Other forms of Halal certification are checking to make sure that forbidden food substances, like pork or alcohol, are not present in packaged foods or beverages.
The claims are that Islam uses Halal certification to make vast sums of money, which in turn is syphoned off to foreign interests, and at worst to terrorism. Or that within Australia, there are vast sums of money syphoned off into mosques and schools.
The main complaint is that Halal is a tax on none Muslims and therefore unfair.
Halal, like other religious certifications, and including health certifications, would cost money to certify as someone would need to be employed to do that. But the certification process doesn’t rake in vast sums of money. In 2015 the ABC Fact Check interviewed The Byron Bay Cookie Company who said that their Halal certification fee was around $1,500 per annum (www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/2015-04-14/fact-check-does-halal-certification-fund-terrorism/6383238) or 0.003%. The Fleurie Milk Company (who sufferd from a social media campaign against their intention to provide yoghurt to Emirates airlines) had a fee of $1,000 or 2% of the contract.
Nestle responded by saying that their fee was negligible. and further commented that they did not pass this minor cost on to the customer.
In 2015 the certifications done by the Global Halal Centre Pty Ltd said that abattoirs were audited four times a year and cost between $2 – 3,000 per audit, and Halal certification per carton of meat was 25 cents. While Graincorp said that their costs were “pretty minor.”
I think Nestle nailed it when they said that what needed to be taken into account was the context. The companies are making it clear that the cost is not an impediment nor does it hinder them in any way. The companies are saying that the fee is so minor it is not a risk to profit (which is a major indicator of how trivial it is). What the companies are also saying is that the Halal certification cost is outweighed by the income from being able to guarantee Halal to a growing and lucrative market. In 2012 the global Halal certified food industry was worth between $US600 billion and $US2.1 trillion. As a value that is a market worth sharing in, and clearly outweighs the minor cost of certification. in that sense, Halal is a positive way forward for companies wanting to enter that particular market.
Context will also give an account of other forms of religious certification. This is primarily Kosher certification for the Jewish community. In 2014 there were negotiations to include Hindu certification in the US market, and there is in Australia a Christian Certification Authority trying to make headway in the market. The Sikh community have some restrictions, they are required to forego halal food, so for the Sikh community halal labels are helpful by default.
In regard to the fee received by Muslim certification agencies, according to the ABC Factcheck (referenced above), none of the money could be traced to terrorism or to unscrupulous agencies. Besides which, all money transfer is closely monitored by Federal Govt. agencies through the regulatory processes in place. All Banks have to have a series of checks in place to validate your identity and the channels you are using. Of course, this doesn’t prevent money laundering for those intent on achieving it. It would be difficult to monitor all foreign channels that provide a publicly legitimate front for laundering. That is the role of Internationally cooperative agency to achieve through investigation.
It is also important to note that within Australia, peak bodies like the Islamic Council of Victoria, Halal Australia, Muslims Australia (AFIC) are openly opposed to terrorism and any form of association with prohibited agencies and groups.
As for money going to Mosques and schools, ABC Factcheck reported that some does, but this is legitimate (as it is for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs). In 2014 the AFIC contributed $150, 000 to schools, youth programs, lectures and more. The ICCV funds schools and youth programs. The Supreme Islamic Council for Halal Meat Australia (SICHMA) supoprts Islamic centres, mosques, youth education and mentoring programs. Those monies are, like all monies gained by public and charitible entities, regulated and audited.
It should be noted that Islamic schools and colleges are governed by the same regulations as are Christian and other faith schools, which means they are regulated and audited, and they are required to comply with Australian standards. Otherwise, no operating licence would be granted, or continued.
The evidence doesn’t support conspiracy, money laundering, terrorist funding, or any ilegal activity. From a commercial perspective, Halal is profitable and far outweighs any certification costs. From a religious point of view it is similar to Kosher slaughter, it helps other religious groups identify Halal, and it is a positive for those practice Islam. From a community point of view there is so much legislation around finance, money transfer, banking, the licencing of schools, and employment, that our confidence is well founded that there is nothing untoward.
My own conclusion is that opposition comes from two sources. One is a large percentage of the Australian population who just don’t know what Halal is all about. The other is an unconnected variety of vocal opposition politically, religiously, and culturally anti-Islamic. These include neo-nazis, white supremicists, extreme right-wing political groups, anti-imigration lobbyists, and anti-refugee groups, and extremist or fundamentalist Christian groups among many voices (an unholy alliance!). This latter group are adept at manipulating the first group. Fear is a trade in stock for anti-Islamic groups. And this in a country that birthed the protectionist “White Australia Policy” which I believe is, unfortunately, still active in our hearts and minds. We need to deal with this latent policy, and its antecedents by letting go the past and living into a different future.
The panic being created about Halal is really a wake up call to us all that now is the time to build bridges towards a connected yet diverse and creative community, rather than aiming for mediocrity and division.
I want to live in a place where difference is celebrated not punished, and where we can live into an Australia that rises to acknowledgement and acceptance, embracing and compassionate, and not just for Muslims either, for all.
Next time someone you know criticises Halal, let them know the truth.