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The halal brigade strikes again

 | December 28, 2016

Assurances from the manufacturer of Toblerone and Daim may not be good enough.

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The makers of ordinary food items like butter, sauces and chocolates have often enough courted controversy for the absence of a halal label on their products.

A few months ago, Auntie Anne’s “pretzel dog” had to be renamed “pretzel sausage”. The franchise was denied a halal certificate because Jakim claimed that some Muslims were confused and thought they were eating dog.

In the past, people were confused when Jakim banned Tabasco sauce, Golden Churn butter, HP sauce, Cadbury chocolates and coffee. These are all meat-free.

In October’s hotdog debacle, the Perlis mufti advised Muslim patrons to check the food content and not get fixated on the name given to the food. Many Muslims already do this.

Jakim once claimed that Tabasco sauce, which is made from chillies, salt and vinegar, contained porcine DNA. Soon after, HP sauce was also found to contain porcine DNA.

A quick look at the list of ingredients will show that these products do not contain any meat derivatives.

The scandal over Cadbury chocolates was another shameful episode in our history. Furious, hysterical Malays appeared in press conferences demanding compensation of several million ringgit per person from Cadbury. They claimed that they had unwittingly fed their children pork-laced chocolates. Other Malays demanded money to pay for blood transfusions to cleanse themselves of porcine contaminated blood.

It was subsequently found that there had been an error in testing. So did Cadbury receive an apology or compensation for lost sales and bad publicity because of an incorrect chemical analysis by the government laboratory and the premature announcement by a Jakim official?

Golden Churn butter was another food item which allegedly contained porcine DNA. People were baffled because butter is made from cow’s milk.

One food critic said, “Does anyone make butter from pig’s milk? I notice that in the past, these halal certification problems occurred just before Hari Raya.

“When Golden churn butter was in the news, sales of the popular Raya item, Sarawak kek lapis, dropped. Most cooks use Golden Churn butter to make cakes and cookies. The importer and wholesaler suffered a major loss.”

The latest food items to be targeted by the halal brigade are Toblerone and Daim chocolates.

Mondelez International, the manufacturer of these two brands, quickly released information to say that they are safe for consumption by Muslims and that they are produced through processes that meet world consumer food standards.

Many savvy Muslims who are unsure about a new food item look at the label for such phrases as “suitable for vegetarians” and think that this would suffice. Would it?

Mondelez’s press release about Toblerone and Daim may not be good enough for Jakim and the holier-than-thou Malaysian Muslims.

The halal business is a multi-billion-ringgit global industry. Obtaining a halal certificate is not cheap and it is time-consuming and laborious. However, as some food manufacturers and importers have discovered, it is costly not to have one, even if sane people think that some food items, such as butter, chocolate and hot sauce, don’t need one.

How long will it be before water needs halal certification? Oh, I forgot. Some brands of bottled water already carry the halal logo.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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