In the absence of a global halal certification agency meat exporters jump through many hoops to meet countries' different regulations. India’s road to the position of the world’s largest beef exporter has been paved with constant and stringent compliance with various countries’ evolving halal standards and processes, in addition to its own
At one of India’s largest carabeef processing plants a buffalo is coaxed into the slaughter box and its head is restrained in a special vice. The box then revolves towards the qibla, the direction of Mecca. The slaughterer invokes the name of God by reciting the tasmiyah, then using a sharp knife severs the buffalo’s carotid artery, jugular vein and windpipe in a single swipe. The animal’s blood is then drained from its carcass before being carved into multiple ‘cuts’ for export to various countries.
The scrutiny of this process, once the domain of traditional butchers who followed halal practices handed down through the generations, has now become much more complex with different countries imposing their own standards of halal meat on exporters.
Indian meat traders say they follow multiple stringent halal practices and certification processes in order to ensure that whatever meat is being exported out of the country is certified 100 percent halal.
Indian certification agencies say they need to constantly keep their eyes on the ball to ensure that meat exports continue to be in consonance with evolving halal standards in various nations.
“I don’t think there is a single kilogram of meat that is exported without following the halal system. We know the requirements of beef-importing countries. We export only halal meat. All plants adopt the same system,” Sirajuddin Qureshi, president of the All India Jamiatul Quresh, an industry body of meat traders and exporters, told Salaam Gateway.
MANY DIFFERENT IMPORTERS’ REGULATIONS
India’s certification bodies are also required to go through a rigorous process of getting accreditation from the respective agencies of importing countries. “For accreditation, yes, we face a lot of challenges because different countries have different sets of regulation,” said Mohammad Noman Lateef, general manager of certifier Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust, adding that sometimes these countries also change their regulations, which need to implemented at the plants.
For example, he says, the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water was previously responsible for accreditation of halal certification bodies. This responsibility has since been transferred to the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA). “ESMA has implemented new regulations, which we have had to incorporate into our certification process as well as into the slaughtering process at all plants.
“ESMA has referred our case to another body called the Dubai Accreditation Department (DAC). This week, we are expecting their officials to visit India. They will come and audit us. They will visit slaughterhouses too,” said Lateef, pointing out that they also had auditors from a Turkish halal authority visiting India two months back.
Besides the Indian halal certification, individual slaughterhouses are also required to obtain other kinds of food safety- and hygiene-related approvals from the agriculture or food or health departments of importing countries.
“If you are exporting to Malaysia, for example, you need to be registered with the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM). For exporting to Vietnam and western countries, we don’t require any other halal certification apart from the (local) Jamiat Ulama certification,” said Ahmed Darmani, director of Hyderabad-based Telangana Foods Pvt. Ltd., which produces 40-45 tonnes of buffalo meat every day.
In order to upgrade their halal certification process, Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust, says they attend various international training events and seminars, and try to implement the learnings.
For instance, the Malaysian government used to require supervisors and slaughterers at a plant. “Then they suggested we have halal checkers who would be responsible for witnessing each and every slaughtering, and would report to the supervisors. So this halal checker idea was from the Malaysian government and we implemented that,” said Farooqui.
While India’s meat also goes to non-Islamic countries where halal isn’t mandatory, exporters say they are allowed to send only halal meat because they cannot separate consignments.
“In order to cover the complete world market where the major requirement is for halal meat, the Indian government has made the halal process mandatory for all consignments,” said Darmani.
India was the one of the world’s largest exporters of buffalo meat in 2016. Eight of its top 10 buyers are from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries: Malaysia, Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria, UAE, and Oman.
The country exported 1.33 million metric tonnes (MT) of buffalo meat worth $3.93 billion in the financial year from April 2016 to March 2017, according to official data from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), a Ministry of Commerce & Industry body. This includes $1.635 billion worth of meat export to OIC countries, or about 42 percent of India's total meat exports.
The meat processing industry in India has traditionally been unorganised, with a majority of it comprising small butchers and traders operating out of neighbourhood or local markets to meet huge local demand.
But this changed over the years with the entry of large players who created a big export market for Indian beef. Today, the country has one of the most sophisticated and advanced halal meat processing plants, using the world’s latest technology and machines to cut, pack and export frozen meat across the globe.
Recognising the industry’s potential, the Indian government put in place laws and policies to regulate it. As per the Foreign Trade Policy, all export-oriented meat processing establishments are required to be registered with APEDA. As a prerequisite, the government has made it mandatory for processing plants to obtain a halal certificate to start a company, as well as various other types of certificates and environmental clearances.
“APEDA doesn’t give you a plant licence unless you have a halal certificate. They require a bunch of documents, one of them being the halal certification. They give permission to export for one year for non-integrated plants or two years for integrated plants. You need to get the halal certification renewed at the end of each such period,” said Telangana Foods’ Darmani.
India currently has more than 70 APEDA-approved plants that are allowed to export meat – all of which have had to obtain halal registration from the country’s private halal certification bodies such as Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust and Jamiat Ulama Halal Foundation. These are the only two recognised and globally-accepted certifiers in India for halal meat.
“Once a plant is registered with us, we supervise their operations, check feasibility, and see how many animals can be slaughtered each day. Based on our calculations, we decide how many halal supervisors need to be appointed to a plant,” said Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust’s Farooqui.
Halal supervisors are generally Islamic clerics who are trained by the certification bodies on halal processes.
Headquartered in Delhi, the halal certifier also has branches in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Lucknow and Kolkata. It has more than a hundred supervisors overseeing the halal process in over 60 plants across India.
Farooqui says their halal certificates are recognised internationally. “There is no country in the world that doesn’t accept our halal certificate,” he said, adding that they have also received accreditation from the halal certification agencies of Malaysia, Singapore, the UAE and Indonesia.
In addition to receiving a halal registration for the company, the plant is also required to obtain halal certificates for each and every consignment that is exported out of its facility. The consignment is certified only after confirmation report from the halal supervisors who are deputed at the plant to witness each slaughtering.
“[The supervisors] are always there to oversee the system of halal slaughtering. So there is no doubt whether it’s halal or not,” said All India Jamiatul Quresh's Qureshi, adding that systems are in place to also check the health of every animal before slaughter.
“There are checks at every stage to ensure that no animal enters the plant with any kind of problem or disease,” Qureshi added.
In India, cattle can be slaughtered only after obtaining a ‘fit to slaughter’ certificate from the government’s veterinary authorities.
UNSTUNNED, TRADITIONAL METHODS
While India continues to follow a conventional halal method of slaughtering, Farooqui says they still train many slaughter personnel and supervisors on a regular basis. “Even though they know the process, we still train them in-house as well as at the slaughterhouses. In other countries, they stun animals electrically before slaughter. We don’t do that in India, although we know the process and have the expertise,” he added.
India’s halal practices for meat are also scrutinised by a number of government and private halal agencies from beef-importing countries such as Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations.
“They visit every year and meet our government agencies and halal certification bodies before visiting each and every beef-exporting plant to make sure our systems are 100 percent halal,” said Qureshi, who is also the managing director of Hind Agro Industries Ltd., one of the largest beef exporting companies formed in partnership with the Government of Uttar Pradesh. It has a beef production capacity of 400 MT and annual revenue of more than $54.5 million.
“Moreover, being a Muslim, I have to be 100 percent sure that it is done totally through halal system. So we take every care. Otherwise, it will be haram,” he insisted.
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