x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Halal standards are on the menu for UAE

The Sharia-compliant sector booms as demand grows and rules are key to preserving integrity.

Khazan Meat Factory plans to boost its production by 30 per cent this year.
Khazan Meat Factory plans to boost its production by 30 per cent this year.

DUBAI // A more comprehensive set of halal food sttandards outlining proper Sharia-compliant practices from slaughtering to food additives could be approved by the UAE Cabinet within weeks, the country's quality standard authority says. The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology Abu Dhabi (ESMA) approved revised technical regulations and submitted them to the Government for approval 11 days ago.

They should be approved by next month, said Mohammed Badri, a consultant with ESMA. The regulations will help UAE consumers feel more confident that products in the Emirates are Sharia-compliant, said Saleh Abdullah Lootah, the managing director of Al Islami foods, the country's leading halal food producer. "Consumers have been demanding such regulation and they have had enough from people claiming that they are halal and they are not halal," he said. "Or the consumer finds out after eating the product that its not 100 per cent halal."

Valued at an estimated Dh7.7 trillion (US$2.09tn), the global Sharia-compliant products and services industry has grown significantly in recent years, extending beyond just food to cosmetics, shipping companies, hotels and finance. In the UAE alone, it is valued at an estimated Dh550 million. However, as more and more companies adopt halal practices to appeal to these consumers, debate has grown around exactly what makes a product halal.

The UAE does not have its own regulations, but has followed guidelines set out by the Gulf Standards Organisation (GSO), based in Riyadh. However, Mr Lootah said these guidelines were outdated and did not address modern manufacturing processes. The revised rules, approved by the GSO in May and adopted by the ESMA, go beyond just slaughtering to address other issues such as whether food additives are derived from pork, said Dr Gasim Ahmed, a senior standards specialist at GSO.

"Anything in the products should be produced from halal sources, including ingredients and processing aids," he said. A global halal standard is in the works. A draft was presented at the World Halal Forum in Kuala Lumpur in May and is now up for public debate and review until the end of the year, said Darhim Hashim, the chief executive of the International Halal Integrity Alliance. This first draft addressed food service, logistics, animal welfare and handling, and slaughter, he said. An additional draft set of regulations dealing with other halal issues will be ready for next year's global halal forum, he said.

"It takes halal to a much better level, and really moves it up from an unregulated cottage industry to a much more professional, regulated industry," he said from Kuala Lumpur, where the non-profit organisation is based. The updated standards come at a time when the halal market is growing in the UAE. Maher al Jannan, the export head at the Khazan Meat Factory in Sharjah, said its sales had grown by 200 per cent across the Middle East, and by 75 per cent in the UAE this year, compared with last year.

It plans to boost its production, at 650 tonnes of mutton and beef monthly, by 30 per cent this year, he said at the World Halal Expo in Dubai. Jelal Aossey, the director of the food company Midamar, based in the US, said his sales in the Middle East so far this year had grown by 38 per cent, adding sales had grown by 150 per cent in the UAE, in part because the company is relatively new to the Emirates. Midamar recently opened an office in Dubai, its first outside the US.

About 80 companies from 22 countries came to exhibit their halal products at the exhibition, which is double last year's attendance, said the expo director Nafees Ahmed. Mr Hashim said the growth follows growing awareness of halal as a healthy option, especially after recent incidents involving food contamination. "We are not just buying food prepared locally, everything comes from everywhere," he said. "And when you see evidence of that integrity breaking down, it's sort of a wake-up call."

aligaya@thenational.ae