Senator Cory Bernardi
The aim of this inquiry was to obtain the facts about food certification
in Australia, amid the uncertainty voiced by businesses and consumers.
The 1492 submissions received illustrate the level of public concern
about third party certification of food. As mentioned in the committee’s
report, Australians particularly had questions and concerns about halal
Some submitters who were critical of halal certification also made the
point that they accepted and supported Muslims being able to access halal
certified food. In many cases, submitters were not calling for a complete
removal of halal certification; just more information so that they could choose
whether or not to buy halal certified products. This reflects the committee’s
view that “calling for reform is vastly different from advocating abolition.”
I support the committee’s recommendations and most of the conclusions
made by the committee; however, there are a number of points the report did not
address and areas where the report didn’t go far enough.
This inquiry was welcomed by a broad cross-section of the Australian
food community, including the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), the
Organic Standards and Certification Council, the Executive Council of
Australian Jewry, Food SA
and Australian Organic.
Robert Goot, the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry
said “we don’t see the inquiry as a threat. It might even provide an
opportunity to dispel some misconceptions, and thereby encourage greater
understanding and respect for our religious beliefs.”
Indeed, even Mr Abdul Ayan, who had been critical of the inquiry’s
establishment initially, told the committee in November that he valued the work
of the inquiry and he hoped “that this inquiry will be productive and
beneficial for Australia’s trade and commerce in halal products and services.”
The AFGC considered it a “good thing” if the inquiry “can put to bed”
the claims and misinformation, and establish the facts, particularly around
This inquiry was possibly one of the best opportunities that certifiers
had to debunk misconceptions and to counter suspicions with truth.
Halal certifiers ignored
The total number of halal certifiers in Australia is not known in any
official capacity. There are at least 22 halal certifiers involved in our
and an unknown number that serve the domestic market.
Yet very few certifiers took up the opportunity to contribute to the
inquiry and I share the committee’s dissatisfaction with this lack of
participation. If certifiers are worried about being misunderstood or
misrepresented, they were given a chance to present their views to politicians,
the parliament and the public.
This inquiry was an opportunity for certifiers to allay misconceptions
and community anxieties, and to detail the benefits of certification to the
The fact that so many refused to do so suggests that people have a right
to be concerned.
Mr Mohamed El-Mouelhy, head of the Halal Certification Authority (a
halal certifier), made a submission but chose to not appear before the
committee at a hearing.
Mr El-Mouelhy has taken every opportunity on social media and on TV to
broadcast his views on halal certification, yet when offered the chance to do
so at a Senate committee hearing, he refused to appear.
On Facebook he called the inquiry an “exercise in bigotry”. He insulted
other submitters as bigots.
He claimed – incorrectly - that the inquiry wanted to destroy the halal
certification industry, and that the government had ‘shut down’ the inquiry.
While he has
the right to refuse, the committee would have benefited from his appearance to
present questions and seek further information about his role in halal
I agree with
the committee’s conclusions regarding inadequate labelling and the lack of
information available to consumers, particularly with halal certified products.
It cannot be
emphasised enough that consumers have a right to make informed decisions
–regardless of their motivations. Current labelling practices do not allow them
to fully realise this. This is particularly problematic for the Sikh community
in Australia whose beliefs prohibit them from consuming halal food.
Council of Australian Jewry agreed with improved certification labelling: “We
would welcome any tightening of the law to ensure both proper disclosure and
truth and accuracy in labelling.”
maintains that certification does not represent the spread of religion, but
that is not always the case. Kosher certification is done on a cost recovery
basis but halal certification raises money that is then (in many cases) spent
on religious communities and facilities for the proselytization of Islam. Even
Islamic organisations with charitable status (like AFIC), that maintain halal
certification is done on a cost recovery basis, identify large profits attributable
to their certification business in their financial reports. These funds clearly
contribute to their organisational aims which include supporting schools,
mosques, and other Islamic organisations.
respect to halal certification, some certifiers have mentioned supporting
Islamic charities which have been associated with extremist Islamic groups
whilst AUSTRAC have identified Islamic charities as a major conduit of funds to
proscribed or terrorist organisations.
regardless of people’s views on that point, a lack of labelling still means
that Australians are unknowingly supporting a cause that they may or may not
wish to support.
It’s about choice
A lack of
choice was a key concern of most submitters that were worried about halal certification.
They made it clear that they had no problem with Muslims accessing foods that
fit with their belief systems. That is as it should be. It was the lack of
choice that they took issue with.
They do not
appreciate purchasing halal certified food without their knowledge, given that
many halal certified products are not labelled as such. Without a label,
consumers cannot easily determine at the point of sale whether a product is
purpose of certification is to ensure Muslims that the products are permissible
to consume. If Muslims are not able to determine at the point of sale which
foods are halal certified, why bother with certification? As one submitter
said, it “causes one to ponder what the point of the certification is if the
consumers requiring halal certified products do not know it is halal
submissions were concerned that the cost of halal certification was being
passed on to them when they purchased products. While there are those who argue
that the costs cannot possibly be passed on to the consumer because the cost is
so minimal when spread across millions of products, the point remains that the
manufacturer paid money to a halal certifier, and some consumers may not wish
to support in any way a manufacturer that has given money to a particular
organisation, be it religious or not.
were paying the Catholic Church for Catholic certification, and then not
telling consumers about it, one can imagine that many Australians would be up
in arms about it.
want the freedom to support causes and ideologies of their choosing. They want
to support schools, charities and businesses that represent their concerns and
they want to be able to make informed choices.
proper and transparent labelling and a clear indication of how money collected
through any certification scheme is utilised.
consideration is where certification revenue goes. Some Australians may prefer
not to support companies that sell certified products if the certification
revenue is sent overseas. For example, an Australian halal certifier – the
Islamic Coordinating Council of Victoria (ICCV) – is funding a mosque and
orphanage complex in Indonesia, even though the Deputy Chair of the ICCV had
initially said that the money stays in Australia.
certificated products need to be labelled as such on the packaging in order for
consumers to make an informed choice at the point of sale. They may still
choose to purchase the product or they may not, but the main point is that the
choice is theirs to make.
Consumers want information
consumers want to be informed in detail about the products they purchase. This
includes the country-of-origin, fair trade, sustainability, where ingredients
were grown and where the product was manufactured, among other considerations.
slaughter is an important issue for many Australians. The outrage stemming from
the live export trade a few years ago demonstrates that people care about
animal welfare and the method of slaughter undertaken. This was also reflected
in a number of submissions. These people would like the opportunity to purchase
meat that has not been slaughtered in a way that they do not agree with. How
many of these Australians are unknowingly purchasing and eating meat that has
been slaughtered in a way that they may regard as unethical?
wanting to know about certification is just another piece of information that
consumers would like to be able to access easily.
has caused a number of people in the community to question why all Australian
consumers are expected to support Islamic religious causes in the purchase of
their everyday grocery products.
It seems a
legitimate question to ask and yet, for daring to voice that concern, some
Australians have been labelled racists and Islamophobes. As Halal Choices
argued in their submission, when you choose to buy Australian products, no one
labels you a racist. Yet when you choose not to buy halal products, you are
labelled a racist and a bigot. The double standard in how
consumers are treated is nonsensical.
Confusion for consumers
With a lack
of certification labelling, particularly with halal certification, consumers
are left to contact the manufacturer or supermarket directly to confirm whether
a product is certified or if a company has paid for certification.
it can be hard to find a simple answer to such a simple question.
companies are unwilling to provide confirmation, others do not know the
certification status of their products and some provide conflicting
explained his efforts to find out whether products were halal certified. He contacted different
Woolworths stores about their meat products. Staff in the first and second
stores were not able to confirm whether meat they sold was halal certified but
they believed all chicken products were halal certified. The second store’s
halal certificate for chicken in the deli had gone missing. Staff in both
stores were not able to produce any lamb, beef or chicken products that were
guaranteed to not be halal certified.
At the third
Woolworths store, staff said that it was illegal to sell halal products without
a logo (which is not the case) so no meat in the store was halal certified
except for those with a certification logo. Yet no meat products appeared to
have a logo. A deli worker then said that the chicken was halal, but there was
no halal certificate.
customer service gave the consumer even more mixed messages. The first customer
representative confirmed via phone that all Woolworths branded meat was halal
certified but it was not possible to confirm this for other branded meat
products. Then a second customer representative stated via email that Woolworths
branded meat was not halal certified while apparently also indicating
that Woolworths branded meat is often produced in abattoirs that are halal
Some of the meat and poultry that is sold at Woolworths comes
from abattoirs that are halal accredited and these sites do use pre-stunning as
part of the slaughter process. Woolworths is not halal accredited and therefore
meat and poultry sold in our stores is not recognised as halal.
local independent butcher told the consumer that over 90 per cent of chicken,
lamb and beef in Australia was halal slaughtered.
messages do not assist any Australian consumer, be it a Muslim consumer or
someone not wishing to purchase halal certified products.
Products that don’t require certification
Australia states that “All foods are considered halal” except for pork/pork
by-products, blood, alcoholic drinks, animals improperly slaughtered,
carnivorous animals, birds of prey and particular other animals and “foods
contaminated with any of the above products including all meat, fat and
biproducts such as emulsifier and gelatin.” This includes plants and fish.
So there are
a wide range of products that are already permissible (halal) for Muslims to
consume without certification being necessary.
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), believed to be one of the
country’s largest halal certifiers, adds that “some products are naturally
Halal and do not require verification”. AFIC said that lists are available for
Muslim consumers, yet provided no further detail to the committee about where
these lists are and how widely they are made available to Muslims in Australia.
Authority indicated that for kosher certified food:
It is a matter of knowing the facts about the ingredients in
the product and how the product is made. Sometimes those factors are so obvious
that the product is kosher and we publish that in our guides... We provide that
service free to the community.
needs to be made by Islamic certifiers and bodies to inform Muslims within
Australia that there are a number of products they can consume; and to provide
this information freely, without resorting to certification being paid by
Comparison with kosher
kosher system does have the challenge of dealing with fake kosher labels, the
kosher authorities in Australia told the committee about its efforts to ensure
as many products as possible were accurately labelled, and that Jewish
communities were informed of kosher products via apps, websites and printed
supermarkets in populated Jewish communities (mainly in Melbourne and Sydney),
kosher labels appear on the shelves of kosher certified products, if not on the
product packaging. Some supermarkets also have a separate kosher section or
committee’s report states that no religious ritual is involved in kosher or
halal slaughter. The kosher authorities stated that no prayer or words are
uttered during kosher slaughter. However, the name of Allah is
invoked during halal slaughter by the slaughterman when he says “bismillah”
(‘in the name of Allah’) as he cuts the animal’s throat. This was confirmed by
Mr Wasim Raza, Manager of AFIC. There is clearly a religious
connotation to this so to deny any religious element during halal slaughter is
are those, such as Mr El-Mouelhy’s Halal Certification Authority, who say there is no
discrimination and claim that Islam allows women to perform halal slaughter,
the reality is different. Mr Raza (from AFIC) confirmed that no females take
part in it at all:
All I can say at this stage is that currently there are no
females, in Australia or overseas or in Muslim countries, that are involved in
of women and non-Muslims from participation in the slaughter process in many of
our major abattoirs raises questions of discrimination, particularly when
evidence suggests the majority of meat consumed domestically by non-Muslims is
slaughtered in accordance with halal requirements.
Halal certification: lack of regulation, transparency, accountability
heard examples of a lack of regulation and transparency in halal certification
systems, and improvements that could be made in both the export and domestic
I agree with
the committee’s conclusions that improvements need to be made to the halal
certification system of exported products. The current system – where importing
countries set the rules – can lead to non-tariff barriers to trade such as
monopolistic situations and Australian companies having to get multiple
The AFGC said
that a number of their members – particularly meat processing companies – have
raised these issues with them:
In facilitating trade we should be mindful of avoiding those
sorts of monopoly situations, because that can quickly become a barrier or it
can quickly impose costs that are unreasonable. That has absolutely been raised
with us. A flow-on issue that is raised is that the same company and the same
processing plant can be required to get two, three or four different halal
echoed by a group meat processors, according to additional documents sent to
the committee, which were not mentioned in the committee’s report. Their
concerns are significant, because these meat processors product a large
majority of beef and are at the forefront of halal export certification in
This group of
meat processors – including some of the largest processors in the country –
state that the current halal certification system is “not
transparent...demonstrates inconsistent application of halal standards...is high
cost to Australian industry...does not have the confidence of consumers of halal
beef” and “is causing market access failures.” Further documents illustrate the
confusing web of agreements, audits and arrangements that are currently in
They “call on
the Australian Government to initiate urgent reform of the system by which
Australian beef is halal certified”, including greater oversight by the
improvements to the export certification system is a sensitive issue, given
that it involves overseas governments. However, this should not deter our
nation from seeking improvements in this system. Encouraging our government to
discuss these matters with other governments, even as part of regular trade
negotiations and agreements, could be a possible solution, as suggested by the
AFGC and the Export Council of Australia.
I agree with
the conclusions made by the committee regarding the lack of regulation and
potential for exploitation within the domestic halal certification system.
Mr Wasim Raza
said that “the biggest issue that is facing this halal certification is local
relies on the integrity of the certifier and the confidence that consumers have
in the certifier’s credentials. Yet very little information is available about
the certifiers themselves; and the current domestic system is confusing, lacks
structure and transparency, and is unaccountable to any overarching authority
or body. None of this helps Muslim and non-Muslim consumers have confidence in
Basic questions unanswered
Even some of
the most basic questions about halal certification could not be answered by
halal certifiers or other witnesses.
included questions as to how many certifiers there are in Australia, how many
abattoirs permit halal slaughter, the lower and upper ranges of certification
fees and what percentage of meat and non-meat products are certified in the
to this confusion, the kosher authorities and organic organisations were able
to clearly answer most of these questions for their respective systems. For
example, after this inquiry, we know how many organic and kosher certifiers
there are in Australia yet we still don’t have a number of halal certifiers
that serve the domestic market.
the Australian Muslim community, there are differences regarding the most basic
elements of certification, including the definition of ‘halal’ and whether
reversible stunning is permitted under Islam or not.
Lack of transparency
earlier, little is known about many halal certifiers in Australia. Some do make
an effort to provide information to the public via websites and other methods,
yet overall there is still a lack of information about processes, credentials,
audits and accountability.
encouraged certifiers to do more to improve transparency:
When you are dealing in the consumer space, it is in their
interest to take those steps. That would be things like: who they are—are they
not-for-profit? Are they a commercial entity? What are the standards,
competencies, skills and processes followed?; greater clarity on how the
certification is undertaken; and; particularly; if they have charitable status,
tax-deductible status, to be quite open about revenue and spending and where
the money goes.
certifiers who are charities, there should be even more transparency:
If you have a government imprimatur or you have a charitable
status confirmed by government, then it is reasonable to say there should be a
higher standard of transparency.
Two of what
are believed to be the largest halal certifiers are registered charities (AFIC
and the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australia).
Surely in the
current environment, more information, rather than less, could help counter any
suspicion and confusion in consumers’ minds.
Lack of oversight, standards and
There is no
overarching body that oversees or accredits halal certification in Australia,
and there is no national halal standard which certifiers are accountable to.
organic certification has the Organic Industry Standards and Certification
Council which oversees the national organic standard. The Executive Council of
Australian Jewry presented a submission on behalf of kosher certifiers, and the
Association of Kashrut Organisations is an international body which ensures its
members maintain kosher certification standards.
Mr Ayan spoke critically of the qualifications of some certifiers and their
staff. He said that “most organisations have got a very low educational and
professional profile” and claimed that some the leading figures lack the
educational qualifications that would normally be expected of business leaders.
comes down to credibility and accountability. If there is no regulation or
standard to follow, what is a halal certifier’s performance measured against?
If there is no overarching authority, who keeps the certifiers accountable?
Indeed, who certifies the certifiers? Taking steps towards more accountability
can only improve consumers’ confidence in halal certification.
Where does the money go?
organisations were forthcoming about where the revenue from certification goes.
For the NSW
Kashrut Authority, “All income is absorbed in financing operating costs and
improving services to kosher consumers.” Some of the surplus from Kosher
Australia is used to “expand its own operations”. The remainder goes to
Mizrachi Nominees for the provision of overheads and in return for “the support
it provided for kosher certification services for many years” when Kosher
Australia was not able to recover its costs. Funds collected by the Kashrut
Authority of Western Australia “are used to entirely offset the cost of
providing kashrut services.” The committee’s report mentions
that money from organic certification goes back into operating costs, market
access and education.
cost recovery is the main motivation for kosher certification and for some in
the organic certification industry.
Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry was in favour of halal
certification not being “a profit-making venture.” At the time, the Commission
reported that “AFIC has expressed general agreement with this principle”. During the course of this
inquiry, AFIC again confirmed its agreement that certification shouldn’t be for
profit. This does represent a division
within the Islamic community, where some halal certifiers are private companies
that operate for profit.
evidence to the committee Mr Wasim Raza said that “Certification fees are ...
mainly to recover expenses incurred by AFIC for certification purposes.”
Also, AFIC is
a registered charity listed with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits
Commission and therefore receives all the tax exemptions, rebates and
concessions that come with that status.
declaration that halal certification should not be for profit, AFIC’s own
charity status, and Mr Raza’s confirmation that fees are mostly a cost recovery
exercise, AFIC’s own financial statements for 2012 and 2014 show significant
monies raised from halal certification. When ‘halal expenses’ were
subtracted from the ‘halal income’ listed over the last four years, the profits
raised from halal certification were as follows: $489,592 (2011), $647,722
(2012), $609,886 (2013) and $751,009 (2014). As I mentioned in the hearing,
that hardly seems like a cost recovery exercise.
about this during the hearing, Mr Raza was not able to provide a definitive
answer, stating that he had not seen the financial statements and that they did
“not sound correct” to him. A few weeks later, Mr Raza
Halal Income was mentioned separately but all Halal expenses
were not accumulated under a separate heading of Halal expenses but were
accumulated with all of the AFIC expenses, which gave the impression Halal
activity made huge profits.
information was provided as to what the correct figures were.
Mr Raza also
mentioned during the hearing that figures in the financial statements were
“revised” and “downgraded”, without providing further information or corrected
financial statements. Such bungling does not imbue
confidence in the accounting abilities of one of Australia’s largest halal
certifiers. Combine this with the many investigations of AFIC financial
mismanagement conducted by police, federal departments and state departments in
recent years, and there is reason to be concerned.
At the very
least AFIC needs to improve their financial reporting to make it perfectly
clear how much money is raised from halal certification, and where those
certification funds go.
Potential funding for extremism
committee’s report does not go far enough in detailing the evidence presented
regarding the potential for halal certification funds to find their way to
radicals. My intention is not to doubt the abilities of the relevant
authorities in this matter; I merely wish to present some additional points in
the context of this discussion.
from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), while
stating that they had no information to indicate halal certification is linked
to terrorism, also said that they do not follow certification funds from a
certifier to wherever the certifier sends it (for example, to a mosque, school,
charity or bookstore). AUSTRAC also has “much more
limited visibility of domestic financial activity” and is not able to track money
overseas once it moves on from its first overseas recipient.
Australian Crime Commission said they “have not found any direct links” between
halal certification and terrorism funding. Yet it’s logical to conclude
that funding derived from halal certification could be directed to Islamic
charities and objectives. AUSTRAC’s 2014 report Terrorism Financing in
Australia found that there is a high risk that charities and not-for-profit
organisations could be used as channels for terrorism funding; indeed “some
Australia-based charities and NPOs have been exploited by terrorist groups”. Mr El-Mouelhy, for example,
boasts that he contributes to Human Appeal International (HAI). The overseas branch of HAI has
been named as a possible fundraiser for Hamas.
I support the
committee’s suggestion that allegations of illegal activity within
certification schemes should be presented to law enforcement authorities.
is still crucial to at least mention the claims of corruption and allegations
of misconduct involving Australian halal certifiers. The scope of allegations
alone raises concerns that the confusion and lack of transparency surrounding
halal certification leaves it open to such behaviour. This is in stark contrast
to the kosher and organic certification certifiers, who presented little
evidence of misconduct in their systems.
examples of alleged corruption were presented to the committee, in addition to
reports from the media. These examples included allegations of bribery,
conflicts of interest, intimidation, suspect certification practices and
fraudulent certificates, in both the domestic and overseas halal certification
documented a number of claims of corruption and misconduct in his submission,
his evidence at the hearing and in documents he tabled with the committee. Not
all of them are explored here but a few examples are given below.
Allegations of bribery
El-Mouelhy, an Australian halal certifier, admitted on national television that
he paid bribes to Indonesia halal officials in order to access the Indonesia
market. He was asked by ABC’s Four Corners about paying $28,000 in cash and
travel costs to Indonesian officials visiting Australia nine years ago:
Geoff Thompson: And in your mind, that was a bribe?
Mohamed El-Mouelhy: In my mind, ah- in er-er, you know, as a,
as a, as an after-fact: yes, it is a bribe.
Geoff Thompson: But you paid it nevertheless.
Mohamed El-Mouelhy: I paid something, yes.
repeated this story to Indonesia’s Tempo magazine – presented to the
committee as evidence - which included in its article a copy of a statutory
declaration signed by Mr El-Mouelhy in 2012 attesting to the payments he made
to Indonesian officials.
Tempo also mentions evidence of
alleged money transfers (ranging from $3000 to $10,000) from a different
Australian halal certifier to an individual within the Indonesian Council of
Ulamas (MUI) in March 2013, in an effort to stop MUI from revoking that
certifier’s authorisation to certify products for the Indonesian market.
offered further information:
Fairfax Media has established a Melbourne whistleblower wrote
to three Australian government departments including the Federal Police in
March telling them of corruption allegations between the MUI and Australian
halal certifiers trying to firm up the lucrative export market in Indonesia.
The allegations include bribes paid to the MUI. Fairfax Media
has seen an MUI contract sent to Australian certifiers requiring them to
“contribute in activities for the halal product service in Indonesia.”
And the ABC
Four Corners has learned that there is a global pattern of
complaints about the MUI expecting payment from halal certifiers.
Azyumardi Azra, a key religious adviser for the Indonesian halal authority,
admitted there are problems with the certification system between his country
...need to clean up all this mess. Not to use these halal
certificates for personal enjoyment like visiting Australia on business class
Singapore Airlines for instance...This is the case. I check. The person visit
Australia with their wife and asked for business class airline ticket. So I
think it’s not credible. It’s not accountable. So we need to put this in order.
Claims of intimidation and misuse
was presented with allegations of intimidation by halal certifiers. Kirralie
Smith and Abdul Ayan included examples of this behaviour by halal certifiers in
their submissions and tabled documents. Mr Ayan summarised:
Some of them do not hesitate to exert, sometimes with
impunity, their market power and influence to extract concessions or unfair or
illegal advantages...This manifests itself sometimes in the form of threats and
intimidation of halal establishments who do not cooperate to become willing
The misuse of
certificates and labels is another problem within the halal certification
system; an issue that was raised by the Royal Commission into the Australian
Meat Industry in 1982. More recently, there are claims
that some companies display other companies’ certificates on their premises,
create fake certificates and use labels without permission in order to avoid
paying for certification. Last year, the Federal Court
heard the case of two kebab shops and a wholesaler that were involved in using
fake halal certificates.
When I spoke
of what Senator Dastyari described as “con men” and what I termed
“opportunists” within the domestic certification market, Mr Raza, replied: “I
would agree with the senator and yourself.”
I agree with
the committee’s conclusion that improving the halal certification system would
bring benefits for Australian businesses in our export markets. However, this
shouldn’t be the only reason why this inquiry advocates for improvements. There
is an additional reason that the committee failed to mention in these final
paragraphs. Ensuring that Australian consumers have access to more information
about the products they purchase, so that they can make informed choices, is
also of paramount importance and should be a driving force behind change in the
halal certification system.
have a right to know what they are supporting when they purchase products,
whether that is organic farming, the Jewish community or Islamic causes. There
are no concerns about consumers exercising their choice when they purchase
products with the Heart Tick or products that don’t contain palm oil. Such
attitudes should also extend to religious certification.
has attempted to shed light on certification in Australia. I am grateful that
those who participated did take the opportunity to put facts on the table.
is disappointing that more answers were not forthcoming, particularly with
regard to halal certification.
We know more
than we did at the start of this process but many questions remain unanswered
due to the lack of cooperation by those directly involved in the halal
recommendations in this report will lead to improvements in certification
across the board and increased transparency and certainty for Australian
Senator Cory Bernardi
Liberal Party of Australia, SA
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