I have encountered a fair amount of opposition to Halal Certification this year. I arrived in Sri Lanka in January, just in time for the issue to explode all over the newspapers, and I attended a protest on the weekend where I was again told all the ways that Halal Certification is wrong or unfair.
Both times the outrage was extensive, and the list of grievances long. But the whole issue seems to boil down to two main points; that Muslims are being given/demanding preferential treatment, and that this leaves other consumers with the choice of consuming the product (and therefore also covering the cost of halal certification) or putting up with a smaller selection of products.
But the thing is, Halal certification isn't the only niche certification. It isn't even the only religious certification – ever heard of Kosher? As a newly minted vegetarian/wannabe Vegan, something I have been stunned to see is how many products are now being labelled as for “kosher” for vegetarians and vegans. In other words, the special treatment being offered to my own minority group. Take this photo of a block of cheese I took today:
Granted that is not an official label, and therefore not something that required the payment of a license fee, but it is catering to an niche group, it was in the normal cheese section of the supermarket, and it is catering to a group that has only become vocal relatively recently (I make that last point because for some reason it is awfully important to people opposed to Halal certification that Muslims have only become really vocal about Halal in recent times).
And what's more there are special certifications for Vegan and vegetarian food, and many of these certifications do require the producers to comply with standards – costs that are then born by any non vegan and non vegetarian consumers. Furthermore, and just like Halal certification, the cost of vegan certification is often run by a foreign entity, an entity that requires the payment of registration fees. For example, Australia does not have a vegan certification body, so any food certified vegan in Australia has likely been vetted by organisations in the UK or US. In other words, any of you Australians reading this who have purchased a vegan product have likely helped fund a shadowy underworld of hippie indoctrination.
There are definitely some problems with halal certification – an opaque process and the possibility of gender discrimination are just two examples. But the fact that it caters to a niche market, and that the market is a religious market, is not the problem. There are plenty of niche markets and niche certifications out there, and clever businessmen have found a way to exploit those markets through certification. Thats right, except for a few countries (which are usually Islamic nations), this process has been driven by businessmen and not consumers. Similarly it is not a problem that Halal certification has found it's way into our supermarkets, because it means that more Muslims are shopping in the same shops as the rest of us, instead of being confined to the few shops who carry their products, and the demand for more assimilation is something I have heard from everyone I have heard decry Halal.