The vast majority of submissions the inquiry received voiced concerns
about, and opposition to, halal food certification. A number of submitters
employed language and arguments which could be described as inflammatory,
derogatory, and, in some cases, even obscene. In the interests of fostering an
open dialogue and allowing submitters to have their opinions heard on what is
clearly a contentious issue, the committee decided to accept and publish as
many submissions as possible. Nonetheless, the committee is sensitive to the
nature of some of the material in question, and some submissions were not
A number of valid arguments were made by organisations and individuals.
Concerns raised by submitters are set out and addressed in this chapter.
Not all consumers
are interested or concerned about food certification or certification logos.
However, those who are interested should have access to sufficient information
to interpret what certification stamps represent. This could include
Who is the certifying body?
What is the certifier’s competence to provide certification, in
terms of subject matter expertise and audit/compliance skills?
What does a company need to do in order to be certified or remain
What checks or audits are undertaken to ensure the certification
is used properly, and what is the experience of the auditor?
Is the certification a profit-making enterprise or run only as
To what purposes are profits (if any) form certification fees
A large number of submitters expressed dissatisfaction with current
labelling practices, particularly in the case of halal certified foods.
Mrs Kirralie Smith, representing Halal Choices, an organisation with the stated
aim of providing consumers with information to help them easily identify halal
foods, expressed the following view:
Australian consumers, myself included, are very frustrated
with the lack of choice and information regarding halal certification on their
everyday grocery purchases. It is almost impossible to make informed choices as
many products are not clearly labelled or the company refuses to give clear and
accurate information about halal fees and practices on the items they produce.
I want that information. I want it to be clear. Through my
submission, you can understand that it took years to find out from companies
whether they are halal certified or not.
Mr Bernard Gaynor, who made a comprehensive submission and appeared
before the committee in a private capacity, stated:
There is no doubt that the failure of food producers to
provide Australian consumers with information about the Islamic component used
in the food-production process is because of negative connotations held by the
Australian consumer about sharia-law-compliant food.
Quite simply, where food, religion and money meet, this
should be disclosed to the consumer.
Melbourne based international halal consultant Mr Abdul Ayan, while
supporting consumers' right to information, questioned why some in the
community were so critical of halal certified product labelling:
In principle I support that consumers should normally have
information about the products they buy or that appropriate information be made
available to them. Consumers can also make themselves informed particularly if
that information is readily available say on the internet. But to be informed
or make oneself informed about a product does not begin with objecting to it on
the basis preconceived ideas and prejudices. And if the product one is seeking
information about is the same product he/she has always or often consumed, then
what is it does he/she really want to know that is new or different from that
which he/she has always known? But if information needs to be had then it must
be simple useful and relevant information. A manufacturer, producer or
certifier’s website normally includes a customer inquiry page and other pages
which the customer may consult to obtain information he/she needs about halal
certified products. Perhaps such websites may be designed with a view to
providing “adequate” information. Depending on what information is required
this will add to the cost companies pay for certification and ultimately to the
prices of products at the point of sale.
When product labels carry certification stamps, they let target
consumers know the products meet their expectations, and they help those who
may wish to do so avoid those products.. Their reasons for doing so are, in the
committee's view, a matter of personal choice.
A number of stakeholders, usually representing business organisations
and government, did not consider that current labelling practices were
Government agencies and other organisations consider that sufficient
avenues exist for consumers to verify third-party certifications, and that
mandating further information disclosure on food labels is unnecessary. In its submission, the Department of Agriculture
concluded that 'a market-driven, self-regulatory approach to consumer value
concerns, such as halal labelling, is likely to be more responsive to consumer
needs than a regulatory response.'
The Department of Industry and Science expressed a similar view:
The department considers that Australian Consumer Law
provides adequate protections in relation to the labelling of consumer
preferences for food products and that current food regulation balances the
need to protect and inform consumers with the need to avoid unnecessary costs
Further, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) stated that
brand owners and manufacturers could be legally constrained by their
certification license agreements as to what information they can disclose about
the certification logo on their labels; and that providing information was a role
for the certifiers themselves.
The AFGC considers that, in the first instance, it is
incumbent on certifiers to improve the recognition and trust in their program
by embracing greater transparency. It is in the certifier’s interest to do so
as it increases the value of their certification. It would further enhance the
reputation of certifications as a class by promoting consistency of disclosed
information, enabling consumers and manufacturers to better judge the nature of
the certification being provided.
In their submission, the AFGC suggest the following information could be
The legal entity issuing the certification, and whether it is
commercial or not-for-profit
Its authority to issue certification
Any limits on the acceptance of the certification (e.g. by
country or by denomination)
How a company obtains and maintains the certification
What checks are undertaken to audit the certification, who
undertakes such checks and what is their qualification to undertake the audit
How consumers might check whether a claimed certification is
What sorts of fees and charges are levied (description rather
Whether the certification scheme is run not-for-profit or as a
commercial venture, and if commercial, the uses to which profits are devoted.
The committee is familiar with various anti-halal certification
campaigns. This, Mrs Kirralie Smith explained, is in response to inadequate
Consumer boycotts are a reaction to the betrayal of leading supermarkets
and retail companies who refuse to adequately label products and give them a
true choice at the point of sale. Promoting and funding religious practices
must not continue without the consumer's knowledge or consent.
Worryingly, the Australian Food and Grocery Council reported member
concerns 'over the impact on consumer contact staff in particular of abusive
anti-halal calls and mail.' The committee also heard disturbing suggestions
that some companies have had to remove the halal logo from their products
fearing violent attacks.
The committee did not receive sufficient evidence to either support or
dispel the possibility that companies and their staff have been subjected to
abusive phone calls or threats of violence. However, given the strength of
feeling in some sections of the community and the tenor of some of the
submissions received over the course of this inquiry, the committee believes
such allegations may well have merit. The committee does not condone any such
conduct, and strongly encourages anyone receiving threats of violence to
Nevertheless, the committee recognises that not all members of our
community agree with or accept religious certification, and agrees that
consumers should have sufficient information to make the choices they feel are
appropriate. The committee also accepts that manufacturers cannot provide
exhaustive information on food labels—such a demand would make it almost
impossible to package products and result in significant production cost
increases which would ultimately be passed on to consumers—this is not an
outcome the committee advocates.
Consumer and business interests appear to be at odds on this issue. As
previously stated, companies choose to label—or not label—their products
"halal" as they see fit. These are rational commercial decisions made
in the context of the market in which products are sold.
The committee is firmly of the view that people have a right to make
informed decisions, whatever the basis of their preferences or prejudices. At
the same time, consumers are urged to be sensible in deciding how to express
their displeasure over food retailers' or manufacturers' practices. Shopping
elsewhere and switching brands are valid personal choices people can make.
Verbal abuse, intimidation and threats of violence are not.
The committee recommends that food manufacturers clearly label products
which have received third party certification.
Do certification fees raise food prices?
Products certified organic attract a premium price due to the increased
cost of production and the relatively smaller quantities available.
Most submitters were not concerned with the higher cost of organic
products, but instead sought assurance that halal certification—which was in
their view unnecessary and unwanted—would not drive up supermarket prices.
One submitter claimed that price increases due to halal certification
were already evident:
Of still further concern is the fact that some of the certification
fees are as high as $27,000 per month ($324,000/year) and this obviously has to
be passed on to the consumer which is evident in the increased prices I am
paying which is not reflected in the price the primary producers are receiving
for their goods.
Evidence received by the committee overwhelmingly suggests that halal
certification does not result in increased food prices. This view was shared by
government departments and other submitters:
The department is not privy to the commercial costs of halal
certification. However it considers that domestic and international food
markets are competitive and price-conscious, and that market incentives are
such that Australian businesses are very unlikely to noticeably increase the
costs of their products through halal certification. Similarly, businesses are
unlikely to obtain voluntary halal certification if they perceive it would do
their business financial harm.
Mr Abdul Ayan pointed out that halal certification fees were lower than
fees charged by the government for other types of certification and monitoring.
Addressing perceived misconceptions about halal certification fees, Mr Ayan
They are neither hidden fees destined for terrorists nor are
they religious taxes as claimed by anti-halal groups. Instead they are
generally known fees that are in fact modest and low by comparison. I doubt
that that you will find many businesses that will agree with the proposition
that they are high or extremely high. In a normal commercial environment one
could have expected them to be significantly higher- probably between 50 or
100% higher than what they are now. It is important to point out in this
respect that certification fees per se have barely risen for the past 20 years.
Where a particular certifier has substantially raised his fees, it would be the
exception rather than the rule. But you must bear in mind these are based on
commercial agreements that are subject to change or termination as the parties
Mr Ayan added that halal certification may in fact have the opposite
effect, pushing prices down, and quoted the Minister for Agriculture, the
Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP:
He was clear and unambiguous about the value and importance
of these market[s] for Australia stating that “in the rural sector, we know
these are really strong markets for us, big markets, reliable markets that
stood the test of time, and we work very well [with them]. They don’t ask us to
become Islamic, we don’t ask them to become Christians, we trade extremely well
and we get along very well and we understand each other very well and we don’t
want any unnecessary heat brought into this space because the only people who
[will] lose in this will be us”. This indeed is an impressive and candid
appraisal of our trade relations with these countries and a warning signal to
those who want to trash it. It is not easy to find a more unequivocal and
indeed more sobering endorsement of halal certification and its importance for
this country than Mr. Joyce’s.
The committee concluded that insufficient evidence exists to determine
the effect of third party certification of food on supermarket prices. The
committee notes, however, that retailers seek to be price competitive—the
committee is of the view that consumers will shop elsewhere if prices are
Imposition of religion
Many submitters were concerned about religious certification. The
arguments underpinning these submissions ranged from the profane to the
well-reasoned. A large number of submissions asserted that religious food
certification imposes association with a particular religion on consumers, and
that such an imposition has no place in secular society. Although many submitters expressing this view
spoke in broad terms against "any religion" being imposed on non-adherents,
it must be noted that an overwhelming majority of submitters were clearly
primarily concerned with halal, not kosher, certification.
A submission from the National Sikh Council stated:
I have carefully considered this very controversial subject also
from a holistic perspective as almost 98% of the Australian are not Muslims.
Yet, we are forced to pay to make food fit to eat for only 2% of the
Mr Bernard Gaynor went even further, arguing that halal certification
represents the imposition of sharia law on Australians:
Firstly, halal certification is viewed as a form of religious
tax that funds the growth and spread of Islam in Australia, and that it is
ultimately funded primarily by the non-Muslim majority of the population.
Secondly, halal certification is seen as a way of imposing sharia law and
Islamic religious beliefs on the majority of non-Muslim Australians every time
they sit down to eat. Thirdly, halal certification causes concern, because it
results in the embedding of an Islamic religious ritual in the food-production
process of meat products. This necessarily results in discriminatory employment
practices, and raises additional concerns about a loss of religious freedom.
Mr Gaynor went on to explain that, in his view, there is a considerable
problem caused by halal certification:
It is irrelevant whether these concerns held by ordinary
Australians are about Islamic religious beliefs and halal certification are
valid or not in terms of this inquiry. But I would argue that there are strong
and legitimate reasons to hold those concerns. Those concerns exist, and the
Commonwealth government has no power or legal role to play in presenting the
case or proselytising for Islam. It does, however, have a role to play in
ensuring that consumer confidence is addressed when there is a clear market
failure in food-labelling arrangements. The market failure and
crisis-in-confidence over halal certification can be addressed very easily, and
it can be done in such a way that it does not limit any Australian's religious
freedom, whether they be Muslim or not, and it can be done in a way that fits
with our fundamental belief in freedom and choice.
The committee notes that Mr Gaynor is among a number of submitters who
expressed their conscientious objection to products which are halal certified.
The committee also recognises that Mr Gaynor does not describe his stance as a
I would say conscientious objection is where you are a
minority in a larger system that is imposing requirements on you that have some
problem with your conscience and you object to those. I represent the majority
of Australians who are non-Muslim, so we are not conscientiously objecting at
all. We just want to see our way of life continue; but the majority of meat in
Australia is sacrificed to Allah.
An important distinction must however be made between the terms
"halal" and "kosher", and halal and kosher certification.
The former refers to standards producers, manufacturers and retailers have to
meet, while the latter is a commercial transaction.
Secondly, products are certified because the seller—not the
certifier—sought the certification. These are rational business decisions made
on economic grounds; that is, food retailers and producers seek to expand
profits by increasing their market access. They are business transactions, not
religious rituals. This means that consumers who are not Muslim or Jewish are
not partaking in, or subject to, religious rites when they buy religiously
This is a crucial point. Non-Muslim consumers are not forced to engage
with a religious ritual by purchasing halal certified goods because no such
ritual takes place during certification—the food is not altered in any way or
substantively different before and after certification. Evidence provided by
the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (also known as Muslims Australia)
explained that halal certification, even halal slaughter, does not involve
No, this word 'ritual' is used unnecessarily. There is no
ritual involved. Islam introduced halal slaughter to get rid of the ritual
slaughter, where the animal was slaughtered in this god's name or that god's
name or for other purposes. Ritual is the wrong word to use. As soon as the
animal is stunned, it falls down in front of where the slaughterman is
standing. He has a sharp knife as a requirement and he slaughters the animal.
Then the other people working in the abattoir take over.
Similarly, Mr Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive
Council of Australian Jewry, confirmed that no rituals are performed or prayers
said over animals prior to kosher slaughter.
Furthermore, the perceived increase in halal certified foods is largely
a product of rational, financially-driven business decisions; not the spread of
Islam. As the Department of Industry explains, Australian food businesses
produce goods to meet the needs of a variety of export markets, not just the
domestic market. They have their products certified in order to increase their
To promote the attributes of their products whilst also
managing production costs efficiently and flexibly, Australian businesses often
produce food products with a range of voluntary certifications, including
halal, so that their full production runs can be sold into both domestic and
In the department's view, individual businesses can decide whether to
seek such certification and 'make consumer marketing decisions concerning halal
certification for their food products.' The committee concurs with the department.
The committee welcomed input from all witnesses at its hearings, but is
careful to dispel the assertion that views expressed by any individual
represent the majority of Australians.
The committee notes that many submissions conflate the term
"halal" with the process of halal certification. Halal certification
is purely a commercial exchange, and represents a considerable economic
opportunity for Australian food exporting businesses. Certification does not
require a religious ritual, nor does it in itself make food any more or any
less halal. Products are either halal or they are not—certification merely
verifies the fact. It cannot be asserted that the act of certification imposes
religion on consumers. In the committee's view more could be done to explain
what halal certification entails—this would assist in clarifying prevailing
The committee believes that, as long as products are clearly labelled,
whether food businesses seek halal certification is a matter for them.
Where does the money go?
A significant number of submitters expressed a deep mistrust of halal
certification and speculated that a link might exist between halal
certification in Australia and terrorist activity by extremists:
There is a lot of mistrust by many Australians in regards to
this whole business, and rightly so. The genuineness of these Certifiers should
also be called into question, when products that are naturally halal, such as
water and milk, are attracting certification as well. There is also a genuine
concern that these certifiers are masquerading as a type of charity to the
Muslim population, but are instead lining their pockets, and also funding other
organisations that have strong links to criminal activity such as Terrorism.
The committee considered these serious allegations very closely and
sought the clarification of a number of government agencies with expertise on anti-money
laundering and counterterrorism financing (AML/CTF). Evidence supplied by
AUSTRAC, Australia's regulator and specialist financial intelligence unit with
responsibility for monitoring AML/CTF, stated that despite these allegations, such
a link does not exist:
There have been various public claims that fees from
certifying halal food may be funding terrorism. AUSTRAC has no information that
indicates halal certification is linked to terrorism. AUSTRAC receives
financial transaction reports from businesses providing designated services
under our act. AUSTRAC monitoring of reported financial transactions allows
analysts to make judgements about potential risks of terrorism financing or
money laundering and refers relevant information to investigating agencies.
AUSTRAC monitors reported financial transactions, including reports of
suspicious financial activity and related transactions to identify money
movements associated with halal certification. Of the information identified
from this monitoring of reported financial transactions, none of these have
been assessed as being related to the funding of terrorism, with regard to
halal certification fees. AUSTRAC will continue to monitor reported financial transactions
and analyse data related to halal certification to identify information that
may be relevant to investigating agencies.
Representatives of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) explained that
any sector from which large amounts of money are being remitted carries with it
an 'opportunity for either serious and organised crime or people sympathetic
with terrorism to utilise and exploit that particular sector.' The ACC confirmed that no direct link between
halal certification in Australia and the funding of terrorism had been found.
A number of submitters remained unconvinced by the lack of evidence
suggesting a direct link between halal certification in Australia and terrorism
funding, and continue to speculate:
[T]o me, it is quite clear that the government cannot
definitively say that there are no links to funding either extremists or
terrorism. Over and over again in those reports they talk about the charities
being one of the major conduits for funding terrorism, and all of the halal
certifiers—maybe not all, but let's say the majority—boast about how much money
they give to charity. I do not think that there is ever going to be a direct
link. As with most criminal activity, there are no direct links, and that is
why we need investigations to uncover these sorts of things. But it is quite
clear that the halal certifiers are giving to charities, and AUSTRAC, AIC and
ACC have all said repeatedly that those charities are major conduits for
funding extremists and terrorism both here and overseas.
The committee did not receive any evidence supporting this view.
The committee defers to the view of agencies which are at the forefront
of Australia's counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering endeavours, which
have access to classified intelligence and considerable resources, and whose
evidence indicates that there is no direct link between halal certification in
Australia and terrorism funding.
The committee has complete confidence that these agencies are vigilant
in their efforts to protect our nation and its interests.
Oversight of halal certification—a two-tiered system
Halal certification is 'a modern development barely fifty years old.' The recent proliferation of certifiers reflects
the realities of a rapidly expanding market. The committee was informed that
there were approximately 13 registered halal certifiers in Australia in
2011/2012—today there are some 22.
Not long into this inquiry it became apparent that a two-tiered system
governs halal certification in Australia: one framework is in place for the
export market, and another system, characterised by the absence of a framework,
for the domestic market.
Certification for meat export
While the government oversees the halal certification of goods bound for
the export market, its regulatory role is limited to only the halal
certification of meat. When evidence was sought on the Department of
Agriculture's engagement with and oversight of halal meat certifiers, the
department explained the complexities of the system and the interplay between
its oversight and the demands of the export market:
certifiers will need to have an approved arrangement, if you like, with the
department. That approved arrangement will contain names, relevant
qualifications and experiences of the parties that are involved or making the
application, when seeking approval from the department to enter into the field
of halal certification. In relation to considering that application, we also
consider a range of other aspects, including financial standing, 'fit and
proper', and essentially their competency to fulfil that role. As you can
imagine, the other side of our requirements in terms of halal certifiers is
that they have to be recognised by a local mosque. These requirements are the
requirements of the overseas countries. They need to be recognised by an
importing country authority, so there is no point just wandering into the
department if you do not actually have countries that recognise your competency
and standing in that particular field. They must have some degree of
documentation supporting that. They must provide details to the department of
their training and supervision of Muslim slaughtermen and issue Muslim
slaughtermen with identity cards once they are assessed as competent.
Audits of halal certification bodies are not carried out by the
department; this responsibility instead rests with the Islamic organisations
the department works with:
They conduct their own audit
oversight as part of their approved program and their oversight
responsibilities, so those are the reports that will be forwarded to the
department. The department is also auditing its approved Islamic organisations
to ensure their compliance with those requirements.
The department explained the reasoning behind this system, and
emphasized that Islamic organisations are guided by clearly set out
As you could understand, if we have a religious review in
Australia by a competent authority from an importing country with a focus on
the religious aspects of ritual slaughter, then obviously we want the approved
Islamic organisation to be front and centre through that review.
Our regulatory framework also outlines the responsibilities
of the Islamic organisations, the responsibilities of the department and the
responsibilities of the plant. So, from a regulatory perspective, we have
Islamic organisations that have a very clear framework of how they are going to
operate on our various export plants in terms of halal supervision. From the
plants' side we also have in their approved arrangements how they are going to
fulfil their obligations in terms of halal slaughter, segregation of product
and a range of other requirements of them. From the department's perspective,
we have an oversighting role over both of those participants through our review
and audit processes.
Others were critical in their assessment of the quality control
mechanisms in place:
It is fair to say that halal certification, and particularly
how certifiers practice it, has many deep seated problems. Their audit and
supervision as well as their service provision are poor. There are also
credible reports that some engage in corrupt, unethical and improper practices.
The system allows them to do so and some therefore take full advantage of it.
Halal certification has been widely described by leading members of the Muslim
community, aptly in view, as a cash cow whose function is to collect as much
money as possible in exchange for little or no provision of services beyond
signing and issuing certificates. Each halal registered establishment is
required to have a halal program to serve as its operational manual. Halal
programs are seldom examined by certifiers to ascertain if they are fully in
line with the standard with which they are supposed to comply, or reviewed to
ensure that the system is working well to standard. Some of them appear out of
date and not relevant to the importing countries requirements.
The committee understands that meat exporters, in particular, are
restrained by the current system precisely because arrangements for securing
halal certification in Australia are frequently determined by the importing
country. Any given importing country only recognises a small subset of
'authorised' halal certifiers, and this varies from country to country. As a
consequence, meat exporters can often be required to obtain multiple halal
certifications in order to export to more than one country.
What this in effect means is that some approved certifiers have a
‘monopoly of sorts’, as there is 'no competitive force to encourage innovation
and efficiency and manage costs.' One exporter reported 'having to pay for first
class air travel for a short factory visit as an example of this lack of
The committee accepts that these isolated incidents do not reflect the
practices of all certifiers, but nonetheless believes that more could be done
to ensure greater competition and, as a consequence, improved accountability
and quality in certification. It is important to recognise that this would
require the government considering taking a greater role. As put by Australian Food
and Grocery Council:
It is perhaps naive to hope
that one halal certification might satisfy the disparate religious authorities
across the varied cultural and economic Islamic world, and in a sense obtaining
the ‘correct’ certification for an export market is simply a cost of doing
business in that market. However, it would appear there is opportunity for
Australia’s trade negotiators to raise this issue in appropriate bilateral and
multilateral contexts as a potentially significant non-tariff barrier to trade,
and it would likely reduce the costs of Australian exporters if the current
arrangements could be rationalised.
This being the case, the committee is of the view that a good place to
start would be for the government to work with industry to define a minimum
standard for halal certification, which halal certification bodies registered
with the Department of Agriculture would be required to comply with, and that
the department would routinely monitor.
The government should also consider becoming the sole signatory on the
government halal certificate while recognising a panel of current halal
certifiers as third party providers. This would effectively mean that the
government would be responsible for the management and enforcement of halal
standards for export meat products. The government would also through bilateral
and multilateral discussions pursue greater acceptance of an Australian
government-led halal certification system for future meat exports with all of
its current customers. The government, in consultation with industry would set
a minimum published set of standards to accompany the establishment of this
The committee recommends that the government, through the Department of
Agriculture, consider the monitoring and compliance of halal certification of
meat for export; and becoming the sole signatory on the government halal
The committee recommends that the government, through bilateral and
multilateral forums, promote greater acceptance of a 'whole–of-country',
government-led halal certification system.
The domestic market
Regulation of halal certification in the domestic market can be
generously described as lacklustre. The committee heard credible reports suggesting
that the lack of regulation has at times been unscrupulously exploited.
Government agencies, however, did not express concern or indicate that
they perceived any significant shortcomings in how certification bodies operate
in the domestic market. The Department of Industry and Science, for example,
stressed that certification entities 'are required to comply with Australia's
business licencing, registration and disclosure frameworks.' The inference was that this requirement was
Given the depth of concern among submitters about halal certification,
however, the committee was surprised to discover how little verifiable
information is available on certification in the domestic market. It is easy to
see why misconceptions about halal certification are rife, and easy to imagine
that the absence of regulation could be exploited.
The committee noted a repeated reference to halal certification
authorities as "Islamic bodies" or religious societies. The
Department of Agriculture's list of recognised certifiers refers to the
entities as "Islamic bodies". However, the committee was advised that
not all certification authorities are Islamic bodies:
There are three categories of halal certifiers. Firstly those
that are unambiguously mosque or in other ways religiously based societies;
secondly those that are privately owned family concerns and thirdly those that
are sole traders or partnerships. Sometimes the boundaries seem blurred.
The committee is also aware of allegations of misconduct and corruption
among halal certifiers. These are beyond the scope of the committee's current
inquiry. It is the committee's position that anyone who believes they have
evidence of illegal activity should contact the appropriate law enforcement
Incorporated halal and kosher certification authorities are required to comply
with Australian law. Like other Australian businesses, they are subject to
penalties should they fail to do so. Questioning whether it is right to profit
financially from religious certification, as some submitters did, is a point of
philosophy and is not a question for this inquiry. The committee unanimously
supports Australian exporters in their endeavours to increase access to
The domestic halal certification system is, however, clearly in
disarray. The lack of regulation has created chaos and uncertainty, and opened
the door to unscrupulous conduct. In turn, this threatens to taint halal
certification as a whole and must be addressed in the interests of increasing
our access to lucrative overseas markets. How the system could be improved is
Improving the integrity of the
Since certification is a commercial exchange wherein the business owner
and certifier are, in most cases, pursuing profit, without adequate oversight
there is little to discourage unscrupulous operators.
The committee consulted a range of stakeholders in its bid to ascertain
how best to regulate halal certification in the domestic market.
Mr Abdul Ayan, who has considerable experience in the field, provided
substantial and comprehensive evidence on how regulation could be improved.
Representatives of the Department of Industry and Science suggested:
There are a range of approaches...You could envisage a
regulatory authority for each and every issue that comes up, but we do have a
range of measures in place across the economy that can be used. They may not
appear to have direct relevance, but the provisions of the Competition and
Consumer [Act] are at the forefront in relation to misleading and deceptive
conduct. Section 52 could be brought to bear on that, and, if my memory serves
me correctly, an action under that section can be brought either by the ACCC
[Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] or by a private sector
competitor, for example.
The committee explored the possibility of requiring domestic halal
certification bodies to register certification trademarks (CTMs):
A CTM indicates to consumers
that a product or service meets a particular standard. For example, a CTM might
indicate that a product is of a particular quality or manufactured in a
particular way or location or process.
CTM schemes should have a
mechanism and expertise to determine compliance with the certification
requirements and allegations of failure to meet those standards.
Such a requirement would, as set out in chapter 2, improve the
regulation of certifiers.
For this regulation to be effective, a single standard for halal
certification would need to be established. This would be an ambitious and complex
undertaking, although the committee was provided with a suggestion by Mr Ayan.
The committee agrees in-principle with the AFGC, which 'does not
consider that certification schemes should be mandated to be CTMs...without
evidence of significant regulatory failure.' It is the committee's view, however, that this
inquiry has unearthed significant cause for concern and reason to believe that
some halal certification entities operating in Australia are exploiting the
lenient regulatory environment. For this reason, and given the importance of a
healthy and robust halal certification system to Australia's interests, the
committee believes enough evidence exists to require that halal certification
schemes be CTMs.
The committee also believes that to ensure greater confidence and
clarity, the halal certification community should look to establish a single
industry-led halal certification authority to provide quality control of all
domestic focused certifiers and their operations. This would include the
consolidation of existing halal certification logos/trademarks into a single
national registered CTM that has been endorsed by the ACCC. The standards set
would be comparable to the same standards as those for export.
The committee also wishes to stress that a number of halal certification
authorities were approached over the course of this inquiry and invited to make
submissions or participate in public hearings. Most chose not to engage with
the committee or its inquiry, which, in the committee's view, was not helpful.
The committee sincerely thanks witnesses and submitters with halal
certification expertise who made submissions or appeared as witnesses; the
inquiry benefited greatly from their contributions.
The committee recommends that the government consider requiring
certification bodies to register their operations under certification trademarks.
The committee recommends that the government consider requiring that
halal certification of goods in the domestic market comply with the standard
agreed for export.
The committee recommends that the halal certification industry consider
establishing a single halal certification authority and a single national
registered certified trademark.
Submitters also raised the question of employment discrimination in
religious certification, pointing to 'a large discrepancy between theory and
practice in Australian anti-discrimination laws when it comes to halal
slaughter. Again, halal certification attracted the most
In halal-certified abattoirs only Muslim males can now find
employment as slaughterers. Non-Muslims and women are considered Haram -
unclean. This is overt sharia law, manifest in discrimination on gender and
religious grounds, and applied with full consent of Australian government
A submission from the Halal Certification Authority Australia (HCAA)
disputed this assertion:
Halal Certification in
abattoirs do not discriminate against non-Muslims or women.
The only Muslims employed in
an abattoir are usually limited to slaughtering. This could be from two (2) to
six (6) Muslims out of the whole workforce.
Other non-Muslim slaughterers
are employed by abattoirs for emergencies and to do non-Halal slaughtering.
From an Islamic point of view
there are no impediments for a woman to hold the position of slaughterer.
The advice received from HCAA was put to the Australian Federation of
Islamic Councils (Muslims Australia). Representing AFIC, Manager Mr Wasim Raza
If you have got that advice
from a reliable source, then I will not dispute it. But, as far as my
understanding, it has to be a man, for one reason, because it is not a good
experience to slaughter, to cut an animal's throat, so it is recommended that a
man be there.
The committee noted the differing views and concluded that a definitive
answer could not be established with the available evidence. On the question of
whether halal slaughter has to be performed by a Muslim, Mr Raza explained:
If he is going to say the words, 'bismillah ir-rahman
ir-rahim', 'bismillah' means 'in the name of God', so he has to be a Muslim.
Some scholars even say 'an adherent of a godly faith'—Christians or Jews, for
instance. But these days all the Muslim scholars have said that it has to be a
Muslim to do that slaughter.
The committee notes submitters' views on perceived discriminatory
practices, but also notes that there is a question of potential infringement of
religious freedom to consider. Many of the religions practiced in Australia,
including some Christian denominations, adhere to particular norms which may
not on face value reflect equal opportunity principles but are nonetheless
A number of submitters were concerned about kosher and halal certified
meat from an animal welfare perspective. These submitters identified ethical
issues with slaughtering livestock that had not first been stunned, and reject
assertions that religious slaughter is no more or less cruel than any other
type of slaughter.
One submitter stated:
Muslims in general are opposed to the stunning of animals
prior to slaughter and non-stunning (or possibly partial stunning) prior to
slaughter is a requirement for halal meat certification.
The non-stunning of animals prior to slaughter is a cruel and
inhumane process whereby the animal suffers unnecessary pain and distress prior
to dying...The process of partial stunning is also dubious and there seems
reasonable potential for a partially stunned animal to "wake up" during
the slaughtering process creating considerable distress and pain to the animal.
On the RSPCA website I read that some abattoirs in Australia
have permission to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning, which of
course would be extremely distressing and painful for the animals. Cutting the
throat first and then stunning, as per common practice, is completely
unacceptable, as no living thing should suffer the pain of a physical injury
like this while conscious. And reversible stunning is not really much better;
it is estimated to take 15-45 seconds (variably reported) for the stun to wear
off and the animal becomes conscious. The length of time it takes for the
animal for bleed out to death is the concern here. The EFSA Journal 2004 published
that cattle can take up to 2 minutes to become insensible, and up to 2.5
minutes in poultry and 15 minutes or more in fish. These animals wake up only
to find they are bleeding to death, I can hardly imagine that terror. This just
cannot go on, pre-stunning is the only way, and it cannot be reversible. There
are too many variables to go wrong for the animals, as the arteries need to be
severed properly and it has to be done very rapidly. I have seen footage of
ritually slaughtered animals hung up on racks after their throats were slit,
and they are bleeding out and are jerking and writhing as they die fully
conscious. I find this extremely distressing, and cannot stand by and let it
happen without trying to be a voice for these animals.
However, other submitters questioned the premise underlying opposition
to religious slaughter and the sincerity of those opposing religious slaughter
on animal welfare grounds:
At what point does an act of
violence, an act of cruelty, or the process of slaughter, become acceptably or
unacceptably inhumane? To draw the line between one type of slaughter, and
another which at most results in six seconds of additional pain, seems
arbitrary in the extreme.
Even if halal slaughter was
especially cruel, is it the claim that there is a clear line between that
cruelty and lesser cruelty that is defined by reasoning? Is it a coincidence
that those who oppose halal slaughter also happen to oppose (Islamic)
immigration to Australia; or even to reject Indigenous land rights; or in many
cases even the place of Jewish people in Australia?
The answer is no. The
opposition to halal slaughter is discriminatory because the proponents
selectively concern themselves with animal rights when the abusers happen to be
of the race or religion they demonise, rather than also seeking to
promote animal welfare elsewhere in Australian society.
Considering the importance of halal and kosher-compliant slaughter to
people of the Islamic and Jewish faiths respectively, objectivity is important
when evaluating slaughter methods from an animal welfare perspective. The
committee therefore broached the subject with representatives of both the
Jewish and Muslim communities with expertise in religious certification.
Mr Wasim Raza, representing the Australian Federation of Islamic
Councils (Muslims Australia), confirmed that stunning 'has to be reversible or
‘not permanent’ to be accepted as halal.' He added:
They (abattoirs) work in conjunction with RSPCA, so they use
their stunning procedures. Our concern is mainly: is this stunning reversible?
If the animal were left alone for a minute or two, would the animal regain
consciousness? If that is the case, then we have no problem with the stunning.
The committee, however, understands that Islamic organisations are
divided on the question of whether any form of stunning is appropriate.
Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick confirmed that kosher slaughter of livestock
does not permit any form of pre-stunning. Rabbi Moshe Gutnick expanded:
The exemption for not having pre-stunning is a longstanding
one for many years. It also falls into best practice of animal welfare as well.
If we are talking about lamb, which are the smaller animals, the slaughter is
done with a very special knife in a very special way so that the animal falls
into unconsciousness within seconds. A cow takes a bit longer to fall
unconscious and that is why there is an immediate post-stun. The actual cut
itself is not considered a breach of animal welfare principles, and this has
been shown by Professor Temple Grandin, who is a world-known expert in animal
welfare. The actual slaughter cut done in kosher is as appropriate, and fulfils
animal welfare guidelines in the same manner, as any other method of slaughter.
This has basically been accepted by Australian animal welfare authorities as
The committee did not receive input from animal welfare organisations,
and did not have the necessary evidence to make a firm judgement on this issue.
The committee notes, however, that religious slaughter methods are compliant
with Australian animal welfare legislation:
All animals slaughtered for human consumption in Australia,
including those slaughtered as halal, must be produced in accordance with the
Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and
Meat Products for Human Consumption. This Standard stipulates requirements for
animal welfare including a required outcome of ‘the minimisation of the risk of
injury, pain and suffering and the least practical disturbance to animals’.
The committee is of the view that individuals and organisations who
believe the slaughter methods employed are sub-par or even cruel should engage
constructively and positively with Australian Muslim and Jewish communities.
Norms evolve over time; the committee is not aware of any reason for religious
requirements and animal welfare to be mutually exclusive.
The committee recommends that meat processors clearly label products sourced
from animals subject to religious slaughter.
While the committee sought to publish the bulk of submissions received,
it is cognisant of the pronounced anti-Islamic tenor permeating a regrettably
large portion of these. Many Australians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, may have
been justifiably confronted by the vitriolic nature of some of the published
submissions. The committee therefore again stresses that the decision to
publish much of this material was not taken lightly.
At the same time, it was open to all to make a contribution to this
inquiry. Engaging with the process is the best way to have your voice heard.
It is an inescapable fact that halal certification is poorly understood
and arguably under-regulated, certainly in the domestic market. This
compromises the integrity of the system and has allowed the proliferation of
questionable conduct by certifiers of questionable expertise and intent. This
has in turn contributed to tainting public sentiment and, in the committee's
view, amplified the perceived seriousness of what shortcomings may exist. As
with many commercial endeavours, improvements can no doubt be made—but the
committee stresses that calling for reform is vastly different from advocating
The committee reiterates that the international market for
halal-certified food is considerable. There is every reason for Australian food
businesses to seek to increase their share in this market; doing so can only be
of benefit for Australia.
There is a risk, however, that problems with public perception
domestically could pose a threat to Australia's ability to take advantage of
the abundant economic opportunities available through export. The committee is
persuaded by evidence indicating that shortcomings in Australia's halal
certification system must be overcome if we are to capture a larger share in
this growing overseas market.
Implementing the recommendations contained in this report would
strengthen Australia's halal certification system and position our food
producers, manufacturers and related businesses to be more competitive
globally. The lack of a broadly recognised and respected halal certification
standard internationally provides a tremendous opportunity for Australia to
establish itself as a world leader in the field. For this to happen, Australian
businesses, halal certification professionals and government agencies must work
together to design, implement and oversee an authoritative, consistent and
transparent standard and system for certification. The committee hopes that
this opportunity will not be missed.
Senator Chris Ketter Senator
until 22 October 2015)
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