Organic, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO — these days, consumers spend more time looking at labels more than ever.
Many claims have been bandied about on the origin and health benefits of a variety of food items. However, how can one know which of these claims are true?
For our Muslim brothers and sisters, looking for what is essential is easy — it should be stamped with the Halal logo.
Halal is an Arabic word that means “lawful” or “permissible.” It is associated with Islamic dietary laws, which involve principles of the Islamic Shariah Law and food safety where the former prescribes specific steps to follow for meat to be considered lawful for Muslims to consume.
Further, halal assures also that food is of high quality, safe, clean, and has high nutritional value.
Although usually referring to meat and food products processed the halal way, it is also used in reference to other commodities such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, textiles, and others.
Due to the stringent ethical standards that food and other products must meet to be considered halal certified more consumers are now choosing to buy these products.
Further, the Food Ingredients Global, a food and beverage business solutions company in Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), have reported that Muslims will comprise 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion by 2030.
In South Asia and the Asia Pacific Regions alone, Muslims may reach 1.3 billion by 2030. Current demand for halal food and beverage products is valued at $200 billion worldwide.
Science backs Philippine Halal program
With the increasing demand for halal processed products, Republic Act No. 10817, which institutionalized the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Program, was signed into law.
As the premier science and technology agency in the country, the Department of Sciene and Technology (DOST) is tasked to establish and disseminate an assurance systems on halal. In support, the science agency thus proposed the DOST Halal S&T Program under the leadership of Dr. Anthony C. Sales, regional director of DOST XI.
The program supports the Philippine trade and industry goal of positioning the country as one of the world’s Halal Industry Champions on halal processed foods and products.
DOST Secretary Fortunato T. dela Peña thereafter released Memo Circular 10 Series 2016, which assigned Undersecretary for Regional Operations Brenda L. Nazareth-Manzano as chair of the program.
Under Undersecretary Manzano, DOST provides micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), engaged in halal processing of food products, technical assistance, training, contract research and development services, ISO/IEC 17025 accredited analysis and test services, including halal verification.
To date, DOST has built four Halal Verification Laboratories (HVLs) for food products.
DOST XII’s Regional Director, Dr. Hadja Shayma Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan now retired from government service), established the first unit in 2010 located in Cotabato City. DOST XI and DOST IV-A followed with units in Davao City and Los Baños, Laguna, respectively.
Early this year, DOST XII opened a second, bigger halal hub), the Philippine National Halal Laboratory and Science Center (PNHLSC), in Koronadal City, South Cotabato.
These laboratories test raw materials, food products, and non-food products for intoxicating alcohol content, presence of porcine, drug residues, heavy metals, including its nutritional content. The aim is to check degree of its adherence to following processing requirement that is halal-compliant.
Ensuring “halalness” of processed products
While DOST Regional Offices have steered the halal program through its verification services, Dr. Annabelle V. Briones, scientist I and director of the Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI), is charting another course.
“We aim to support the country’s bid to become one of the world’s Halal Industry Champions. True to our mandate as a research and service institute, the way to do it is to strengthen market competitiveness of halal processed products by ensuring their authenticity or ‘halalness.’
“We are doing this through compliance to international and local halal processing standards. This is so because we do not want standards, regulatory, and conformity requirements to become technical barriers to the halal trade. When our halal processed products conform to, say the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Qualification Framework, we are more confident that we can enter not only the local halal market, but other foreign halal markets as well.”
Thus on the grind, Dr. Norberto G. Ambagan, Food Processing Division (FPD) chief, together with Product Development head Ma. Elsa M. Falco, drafted a Halal Assurance System or HAS Manual for use in processing banana as chips, catsup, and frozen saba. Dr. Ambagan explained that banana was an easy choice as it is the Philippines’ second top export.
In addition, FPD established a Halal Food Research and Development (R&D) Facility. Falco’s team is currently using this to test and verify conditions and clauses contained in the HAS Manual for Banana Products.
Aside from these, Dr. Ambagan formed a team with Lourdes S. Montevirgen of the Food Safety Section as lead to develop halal processed bakery products. These include loaf bread and pan de sal. Likewise, Montevirgen is verifying the HAS Manual for Breads and Pastries in the Halal Food R&D Facility
Meanwhile, Michelle E. Evaristo, also of the Food Safety Section, is working on the technical guidelines for minimally processed halal chicken and chicken by-products, like edible giblets, and development of emulsified meat products in the form of sausages, nuggets, and burgers.
Further, the DOST Regional Offices, through their partner academic institutions such as the Muslim Autonomous Colleges Foundation Inc. (MACFI) and Sultan Kudarat State University (SKSU), are developing halal processed delicacies.
Among these are the rolled rice flour dessert called jah or locot-locot of Basilan; pyuto or salted cassava cake of Sulu; baolo of Tawi-Tawi, a local version of the French butter cake; pastil; tipas or chips of the local Muslims; suman; and kumukunsi of Maguindanao, a snack food usually served during gatherings.
Most consumers who are new to consumption of halal processed products find these as “delightfully, wonderfully varied and complex.” Thus, it is no surprise to know that the halal process requirement is also applicable in production of everyday essentials such as toiletries and cosmetics.
At the Standards and Testing Division, Dr. Rosalinda C. Torres, Scientist I and division chief, has drafted a Halal Assurance Manual on Cosmetics and Toiletries. During the project evaluation, a Muslim representative, cited lipstick, shampoo, soap, and toothpaste as the four basic cosmetic and toiletry items for inclusion in the project.
In the offing, Dr. Torres said, are plans to establish a Halal Innovation Center for Cosmetics and Toiletries. Aside from product research and development, MSMEs can request for contract research on their own halal product or development of a new halal product.
Dr. Torres explained further that, “What makes the center different is that we plan to innovate on existing products to make something new or completely different. This is because we want our products to be able to sustain their consumer appeal and desirability. In this fashion we are ensuring a constantly growing and evolving local halal cosmetics and toiletries market.”
Peopling ITDI’s Halal System
ITDI and DOST Region XI, however, are putting further its halal assurance system to test. Not only will it be validating its procedures; it will be sharpening technological and technical skills of its staff through a rigid training needs assessment.
Further, DOST will be creating training modules on halal processing of food products. They will be supplementing these with development of a curriculum on Science of Halal Processed Food Products for use by state universities and colleges.
In conjunction, ITDI is filling up other gaps toward development of a complete assurance system.
It initiated on October 26-28, 2019 the first training and certification of halal lead auditors with Dr. Abdul Rafek Saleh, executive director of the International Halal Integrity Alliance IHIA), and principal consultant of the Malaysia Halal Consultation and Training Agency (MHCTA), as lead trainor. He was joined by MHCTA Philippines Executive Director and Halal Lead Auditor Dr. Jane B, Tranquilan. Here, technical staff of DOST’s research institutes and regional offices apprised themselves on the halal food processing system.
As the country embraces the new halal market and processing system, the DOST Halal S&T Program is continually growing. This is to ensure that halal processed products and services are science and technology-based, yet innovation driven.
So the next time you look for labels that matter, you do not need to look further. (MVAtienza\\AMGuevarra// ITDI S&T Media Services)
Featured image of Halal Logo courtesy of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)