Many years back, Halal in the middle east, in general, was only concerned with meat products and the process of slaughtering. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for example, are two important market access for European, North American, Brazil and Australia consumable product manufacturers. Australia, for instance, according to the Australian Livestock Exporters ‘ Council, sending sheep and cattle to the Middle East is big business – about $2bn Australian dollars ($1.35bn, or Dhs5bn) per year.
However, apart from meat as an essential import, Halal legislation increased over time due to the evolution of additives used widely in food products such as confectionery and processed food. Even though the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) govern the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO) standards, both countries take their own initiatives to strengthen Halal importation.
GSO is a Regional Standardization Organization established by the GCC Supreme Council (22nd Session, Muscat, Oman, 30-31 December 2001). They assumed its operation in May 2004 with the membership of the governments of the United Arab Emirates, The Kingdom of Bahrain, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Sultanate of Oman, The State of Qatar, and The State of Kuwait.
According to many reports, The Saudi Arabia Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) proposed a change in Halal regulations, which has extended its mandatory Halal certification for several commonly-consumed food and beverages (F&B).
The amendment is a part of a series of reforms that the Saudi Government has been implementing since 2019. For instance, the SFDA established a Halal Center under the aegis of the SFDA to approve foreign Halal certification authorities. This matter effectively requires foreign Halal certification bodies to gain approval from the SFDA for their Halal certificates to be accepted within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With this, the SFDA becomes the sole authority for issuing Halal certificates for all locally produced and imported foodstuff.
In the past, Halal certification was only mandatory for imported meat and meat-based products to Saudi Arabia. However, the new regulation mandates Halal certification for all imported chilled and frozen foods, confectionery, long shelf-life products, milk and other dairy products, and oils and fats.
Confectionery includes biscuits, cake, candy, chocolates and jelly, while the chilled and frozen foods category includes frozen fast foods such as pasta, pizza, noodles, and drinks. Long shelf-life products include baby foods, canned foods, soft drinks, sauces, and nutritional supplements. As the public consultation concluded in April 2021, the new regulation is expected to come into force in two phases from 1 January 2022 to 1 July 2022.
Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) – Port Health and Food Control Section of Qatar has issued the Guidelineꜛ for Importing Halal food and Islamic Bodies Authorized/Permitted to Issue Halal / Halal Slaughtering Certificates in April 2021. According to Qatar, the provisions of this guideline shall apply to all relevant food products, regardless of the country of origin or the exporting country. Muslim countries shall be exempted from the requirement to Issue Halal / Halal Slaughtering Certificates for related products since they have original commitment to apply the requirements of Halal technical regulations and standards. However, this exception shall not preclude the verification of these requirements in those Muslim countries, whenever necessary.
Among the insightful requirements by Qatar on page 5 of the guideline are:
It is prohibited to use any oils, greases, or liquids that contain non-Halal components when cleaning or maintaining the machines or equipment which are in direct touch with Halal food.
Packaging substances must be free of any non-Halal materials.
It is not allowed to prepare non-Halal meals with other Halal meals in the same facility that serves food to the consumer, such as restaurants, kitchens, and others.
With the above, some manufacturers’ segregated process between Halal and non-Halal has to be a completely dedicated Halal facility for manufacturing or producing Halal products. It is reminiscent of the JAKIM Malaysia requirement in the Auditor’s Manual (MPPHM, 2014) that companies producing non-Halal material applying for Halal certification will be rejected.
MOPH also developed a food registration system to facilitate special procedures for specific food ingredients, such as gelatin, mono, and diglycerides. As a result, Halal requirements are reviewed during registration without the need to enclose Halal Certificates for every shipment of foodstuffs containing any of these ingredients and additives. In addition, a system to analyze food for Halal compliance was developed in the Central Food Laboratories of the MOPH.
As a result, it is now possible for the officials to thoroughly check the existence of some non-Halal ingredients, such as alcohol percentage and the origin of some organic ingredients, such as protein if it comes from porcine or any other non-Halal origin.