Many UK foods marketed as halal may not hold up under external certification standards, according to the Halal Food Foundation.
According the British charity, ingredients may be from a “halal source”, but not be part of an entirely halal-approved production process.
“Self-certification of halal products is rife in Britain; due to the vast Muslim consumer market there is a want and need for more halal products and as a direct result, more consumer choice,” it said.
The Halal Food Foundation (HFF) said halal manufacturers should be asking questions like: Is the product free of all non-halal additives and E-numbers? Is it free of non-halal oils and fats? Are the emulsifiers that have been used 100% sourced from halal slaughtered animals?
“The method by which the animal has been slaughtered is not the only factor that solely determines halal compliance and this is something that consumers need to understand,” it said.
Halal meat is slaughtered by cutting the animal's throat without stunning it first, something which has received criticism from many animal rights groups.
The HFF went on to say halal food firms should be asking if yeast used was autolysed or brewer’s yeast or if cheese ingredients used animal rennet in production. It suggested also that transportation must be taken into account to ensure halal products do not come into contact with non-halal items.
“These are just a few of the questions that need to be considered to ensure a product is 100% halal,” it said, and added certification bodies were required for this.
According to the charity’s guidance, for additives to be halal they must be from vegetarian, synthetic or microbial sources. Additives that have been sourced from halal slaughtered animals are also permitted, but if origin information on things like gelatine was not stated it should be avoided.
Halal, says who?
CEO of the UK certification body Halal Food Authority (HFA), Saqib Mohammed, said that merely having the word ‘halal’ on product packaging “means next to nothing” unless it has been independently certified by a recognised halal certification body and includes this registered logo.
“We at the HFA strongly discourage the use of self-certification and will consumers to seek further information to unveil probable misrepresentation or abuse of the term ‘halal’,” he said.
Last year a halal expert told us that the European halal market is in desperate need of a centralised certification system to combat the chaos caused by the horde of different national and independent bodies currently in force.
The HFF said that this responsibility fell in part to Muslim consumers, which it encouraged to be more vigilant in seeking out these logo-marked products.
Responding to demand
It said that this issue of self-certification was fuelled ultimately by a market demand.
“If consumers seek something and the want is large enough then gaps will be filled. If more consumers question and contest self-certified halal products and refuse to purchase items that they cannot fully trust, the amount of self-certified businesses who ‘assure’ Muslims that their products are halal will begin to dwindle – and as a result, the lucrative halal market will be left with dependable products that are categorically 100% halal,” it said.
The organisation pointed out that 4.8% of the UK population are Muslim, while this demographic in Europe is expected to grow by around one third over the next 20 years. This, it said, meant the halal market would become increasingly more profitable.
“Consumers do not want to feel excluded when they do their weekly shop, they want to go to the supermarket and have as much as choice in the products they buy as their non-Muslim friends, colleagues and peers,” it said.
In the European Union animals must be stunned before being killed, but individual member states reserve the right to grant exemption on religious grounds. In February, Denmark revoked the right to this exemption, banning the practice of halal and kosher slaughter on its soil.