Fact file: What is halal food?

Updated 14 Apr 2015, 8:01am
There have been calls to regulate the halal certification industry in Australia, with politicians picking up on an online campaign against it.

Senator Jacqui Lambie wants to introduce a private member’s bill in the Senate to “close these legal loopholes that could allow financing of terrorists and Australia’s enemies through halal certification moneys”.

Queensland Liberal National MP Andrew Laming is campaigning within the government for changes.

ABC Fact Check has considered claims made by anti-halal campaigners, like One Nation founder Pauline Hanson, who says halal certification is a $3 trillion industry that funds terrorism, and found the claim doesn’t check out.

But what exactly is halal food, and why does it need to be certified?

Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible”.

Muslims are not allowed to eat foods explicitly prohibited in Islam. These include:

Alcohol
Pig meat
Meat of an animal that has died of natural causes, or as a result of strangling or beating
Blood in liquid form

Raihan Ismail, an associate lecturer in the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at ANU told Fact Check that halal food for Muslims is prescribed by the Koran.

“Halal is also developed by Islamic scholars based on Islamic verses and also the Islamic tradition,” she said.

Dr Ismail said halal beef and lamb must be slaughtered according to Islamic practices, with clean instruments that are pork and alcohol free.

It should be done in the presence of a Muslim who must say “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim”, which she says means “in the name of Allah”, when the animal is slaughtered.

Some Muslims believe that animals and birds slaughtered by non-Muslims can be eaten and will buy meat from any supermarkets or butchers, whereas others strictly observing halal will only buy meat from a halal butcher, according to a Government document on Muslim Australians.
Not just meats

Some also avoid cakes, biscuits or ice-cream containing animal-based products such as lard, gelatine or enzymes, and packaged foods that contain animal fat in case it comes from pigs. Dr Ismail says most halal-certified products in Australia, such as honey, are the same as a non-halal certified version.

Vegemite, for example, is certified halal by The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils by virtue of being made on a dedicated production line where it doesn’t come into contact with any animal-derived ingredients, and with yeast processed to ensure it is alcohol free.

Dr Ismail says these products appeal to Australian Muslims who rigidly observe halal, but halal certification also benefits the food industry because it increases trade exports, particularly to the Middle East and South East Asia.

“It’s a commercial decision and Australia makes a lot of money from doing that,” she said.

Hundreds of food products found in Australian supermarkets have halal certification, including household name brands such as Nestle Crunch bars, Maggi Two Minute Noodles and Kellogg’s Coco Pops.