JAKARTA – MUI Plans to Regulate Indonesia’s Halal Imports

Jakarta, Jan 7, 2010 – The country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs, the Indonesian Council of Ulema, is planning to insist that all imported food labeled as halal obtain the council’s own halal certification before it can be sold here.

The council’s Food, Drugs and Cosmetic Assessment Institute is the sole issuer of halal certificates for such goods.  Locally produced goods are not required to have a certificate.

Ma’ruf Amin, one of the chairmen of the council, known as the MUI, said many products imported from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and some European countries carried halal labels but that the MUI did not always trust their certification standards.

Many overseas issuers of halal certificates do not have fatwa councils, and several do not operate under an Islamic organization, he said.

Ma’ruf said the move was intended “to make sure that all products labeled halal are truly halal.”

Key issues in halal certification include how animals are slaughtered and what ingredients go into processed foods, he said.

“For the time being, we will focus on food products, but in the future we will also deal with drugs and cosmetics,” he said.

“This treatment will also possibly be applied to products from China and Asean under the framework of the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement,” Ma’ruf said, referring to the trade pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

“International certifiers have agreed — if they do not meet our standards their products will not be permitted to enter the country. So we will help them standardize the certification of products,” he added.

The MUI is working with the Ministry of Agriculture, he said, as MUI representatives will now be involved in checking food at ports across the country.

“We will check whether the MUI has approved them. If they are approved, they can enter the country. But if they did not undergo standard certification we will hold them and then disqualify them,” he said.

Food importers fear that regular quarantining of products would result in a costly but unofficial system of payments to get them released.

The MUI has repeatedly argued that it is its responsibility to protect Muslim consumers. Last September, the House of Representatives delayed passing a bill requiring most consumer products, whether imported or produced domestically, to be certified as halal or not.

The move came after strong protests, including from the local business community.

Ma’ruf said the MUI started to coordinate with international halal certifiers a year ago. He said it now recognized  seven certifiers in the United States and eight out of 11 in Australia.

“Also some certifiers in the Netherlands, France and Belgium have received our recognition. We are now working with some certifiers in New Zealand on how to improve their certification quality. Because so far none of the New Zealand certifiers can meet our standards,” he said. He added that several certifiers overseas are now undergoing MUI training.

Thomas Dharmawan, chairman of the Indonesian Food and Beverage Producers Association (Gapmmi), said the MUI already checked products with halal labels from overseas.

He said getting a voluntary MUI halal label for locally made goods costs Rp 1 million to Rp 2.5 million ($108 to $270) per product.

“The MUI will ask the importer of the products to connect them to the agency in that country. And if there’s no such agency controlling halal, MUI will ask the importer to take them to visit the place where the product is made,” said Thomas, adding that the importer will be expected to pay for the process.

(Original source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/archive/mui-plans-to-regulate-indonesias-halal-imports/  Written by: Anita Rachman & Dian Arifahmi

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