Poser over halal status of imported products sold on e-commerce sites

22 Dec 2022 08:38am
Image for illustrative purposes only - FILE PIX
Image for illustrative purposes only - FILE PIX
KUALA LUMPUR - It is mandatory for Muslims to consume or use only halal products. In Malaysia, finding halal goods is not an issue as most products sold in the market carry the halal logo accredited by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) or its foreign counterparts in the case of imported products.

However, with the existence of e-commerce platforms - which offer imported goods at prices much lower than that charged by physical stores - questions have arisen over the halal status of their products.

And more so recently after a TikTok video by a non-Muslim social media personality known as ‘Cikgu Samm’ went viral. In her video, she advised Muslims to be cautious when buying products, particularly food and cosmetics, imported from other countries like China.

According to Cikgu Samm, even if the products concerned displayed the halal logo, the certification was issued by the local authorities in China, many of which are not recognised by Jakim.

To get to the root of the halal issue, Bernama carried out a random survey of products offered by some of the most popular e-commerce platforms in Malaysia.

Among the products surveyed was a food product called Soft Gummy with Jam, a type of flavoured jelly candy from China which is popular among Malaysian consumers.

This delicacy carries a halal logo from Halal Food Council International (Malaysia & Asia Region) and it is sold in containers priced at RM12 to RM15 each. To date, thousands of containers of this product have been sold.

The product is top-rated by consumers and most of them who reviewed it were Muslims. But not a single person asked about its halal status.

Many other food products from China carrying the halal logo are also sought-after by Malaysian consumers, among them being instant noodles, boba balls and processed beef and chicken products such as popcorn chicken.
You may also like:

A Malaysian wholesaler, who only wanted to be known as Encik Isa, imports "halal” food products from China and markets them via an e-commerce site. He told Bernama he decided to start this business after he found that Malaysians loved to eat spicy fare that came from China.

"It’s a profitable business because my purchasing costs are low and I sell them at marked-up prices online,” he said.

Currently, his hot-selling items include spicy tofu, instant noodles, fried mushroom and spicy hot pot sauce.

"The beef fried with cumin is also a favourite with my loyal customers. Dealing in China food products is, indeed, a profitable venture,” he added.

When Bernama asked him about the halal certification for his products, he said it is issued by the Yunnan Province Islamic Authority. However, a check with the Halal Malaysia Official Portal www.halal.gov.my showed the agency concerned is not among the Islamic organisations recognised by Jakim.

Commenting on this, Jakim’s Malaysia Halal Council (MHM) Secretariat director Marzuki Hassan said to date, only six halal certification bodies in China are recognised by Jakim.

They are Shandong Halal Certification Service, China Islamic Association, ARA Halal Certification Services Centre Inc, Linxia Halal Food Certification Centre, Shaanxi Shang Pin Yuan Halal Food & Restaurant Management Limited Company and Halal Certification Services Chongqing. They are all located in different provinces in China.

Apart from that, halal certifications from 84 Islamic bodies in 46 other countries are also recognised by Jakim. The list can be checked at www.halal.gov.my.

"We need to know that different countries have different methods of determining the halal status of a product. China’s halal certification system is different from Malaysia’s as that country doesn’t have a specific authority to monitor and carry out the task of certifying the halal status of products. They only depend on Islamic associations and non-governmental organisations to carry out this task. In Malaysia, this task is carried out by Jakim and each state’s respective state Islamic department/council,” said Marzuki.

According to him, MHM’s duty is to certify policies and strategic measures with regard to the management and development of the nation’s halal industry; coordinate the management and development initiatives of the halal industry to maintain Malaysia’s position as a global halal leader; and encourage the participation of the private sector in supporting the development of the halal industry.

Marzuki added that the halal certification process for products produced overseas must adhere to the strict standards set by Jakim.

He said when an application for the appointment of a foreign halal certification body is received by Jakim, the latter will first ascertain that the Islamic body concerned is recognised and registered in the country of origin and has a panel of Syariah experts.

"It must comply with all the procedures set by Jakim. Once approval is granted at the application stage, field audits will be conducted, including auditing the slaughterhouse/processing plant and factory. Next, an audit report on this will be tabled at Jakim’s Foreign Halal Committee meeting and the foreign halal certification body concerned will be notified of the decision taken,” he explained.

He also stressed that the recognition can be withdrawn if there is a violation of any procedure or the body concerned fails to monitor the halal management of the slaughterhouse/processing plant and factory.

On the deluge of products whose halal status is questionable on online sites such as Shopee and Lazada, he said Jakim has had meetings with their merchants to enlighten them on the halal aspect as applicable to Malaysia.

Jakim has also developed the Smart Halal and Verify Halal applications to enable consumers to check the halal status of the products they wish to buy through their mobile phones.

"Verify Halal is an initiative by Jakim to build a quality repository of halal products. All halal products listed there have been certified by halal certification bodies recognised by Jakim. To date, various countries including the Philippines, India, Taiwan and Japan are collaborating (with us) through this application.

"Through the two applications (Verify Halal and Smart Halal), users can also check the halal status of non-food products such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as well as the halal status of restaurants and hotels,” he said, adding that as of now, over 100,000 users have downloaded the applications.

Meanwhile, the director of the Fatwa and Halal Institute at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia Dr Irwan Mohd Subri said proactive efforts to raise awareness on the importance of consuming halal products must start at a young age.

"It’s part of fardu ain (obligatory acts that must be performed by every Muslim) that must be learned from childhood. The problem is many parents still lack knowledge about halal food. If a certain foodstuff becomes viral, they will all rush (to buy it) without checking if the halal logo on the product is genuine or not.

"Early education on this is important because our authorities don’t have the power to stop food products, whether halal or otherwise, from entering the (Malaysian) market. In many countries, halal certifications are not mandatory for food products manufactured there,” he said. - BERNAMA