Demand growing for halal products

Producers eager to tap Muslim market

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The global industry for halal food and lifestyle products -- ones that meet Islamic law standards of manufacture -- is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars and is multiplying as Muslim populations grow. Producers outside the Muslim world, from Brazil to the United States and Australia, are eager to tap into the market.

The United Arab Emirates is positioning itself to be their gateway, part of its push to become a global center of Islamic business and finance. UAE officials announced last month that the city of Dubai has dedicated around 6.7 million square feet of land in Dubai Industrial City for a "halal cluster" for manufacturing and logistic companies that deal in halal food, cosmetics and personal care items.

Abdullah Belhoul, Dubai Industrial City CEO, said creating a zone just for halal manufacturers was driven by increased demand locally and internationally for such products. "This industry itself, we know it is growing," he said in an interview. The industry is expected to double in terms of value within five years, he said, "so we think there is a lot of opportunity, ... and we need to capitalize on this."

The world's Muslim population is estimated at around 1.6 billiion, and the majority is believed to adhere to or prefer halal products when possible. The general understanding is that halal products should not be contaminated with pork or alcohol, and that livestock is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic Shariah law. Similar to kosher practices, Islam requires that the animal be killed with a single slash to the throat while alive. It is intended as a way for animals to die swiftly and minimize their pain.

But as with most issues in religion, opinions vary greatly about what is permissible and what's not. Despite attempts by international Islamic bodies, such as the World Halal Food Council, to achieve worldwide guidelines, there are no global standards for halal certifications.

Stricter interpreters of Shariah say chicken must be slaughtered by hand to be considered halal. Others say it is acceptable if the chicken is slaughtered by machine, as is the case in much of the fast-paced global food industry. To accommodate various Muslim consumers, several firms specify on their packaging how the chicken was slaughtered.

Mr. Belhoul said that if halal products are manufactured in the UAE, they will need to be certified halal by the government body that oversees this. But, as with most nations, if halal products, such as livestock or raw material, are being imported from abroad for processing in the UAE, then the stamp of approval comes from Islamic organizations in the exporting country.

This is where organizations such as Halal Control in Germany have an important role, said general manager Mahmoud Tatari. He said that when the company started 14 years ago in Europe, there was little halal product awareness or demand. Today, Halal Control has 12 Islamic scholars who offer guidance on certifications to international firms, such as Nestle and Unilever, who want to do business in the Muslim world.

Halal Control, which concentrates on European-made products, does not certify meat and poultry, but almost everything else from dairy products to food ingredients. Mr. Tatari said Muslims around the world may think they are eating halal-certified food, but raw materials often may include alcohol or pork gelatin in candies and soups, or have been cross-contaminated during production.

Malaysia is the global leader in developing the halal industry and enacting the highest standards, Mr. Tatari and others in the industry said. Malaysia exported $9.8 billion worth of halal products in 2013, the Oxford Business Group said. That makes it one of the largest suppliers in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with 57 international members.

U.S. manufacturers, such as Kelloggs and Hershey, plan to build halal-compliant plants in Malaysia.

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