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Halal market grows, with potential for non-Muslims too

By Clarisse Douaud , 28-Apr-2008

The market for Halal foods is growing according to experts, as US Muslims grow accustomed to seeing Halal in their grocery aisles, and non-Muslims see it as healthier.

As such, for food processors, going through the Halal certification process opens up the possibility of additional clientele - even if they do not have to make changes to their product to get such certification. Enter groups like the Islamic Food & Nutrition Council of America (IFNCA), which started up in 1980 in Illinois, and now has 24 people in charge of inspections - 10 to 12 in the US and seven in Europe. Though it is a certifier, IFNCA is a not-for-profit organization and channels the fees from certification back into educating industry and the community. "The suppliers need to understand the requirements also, and our inspectors actually educate the industry too," Dr. Munir Chaudry, president and halal administrator with IFNCA, told FoodNavigator-USA. Halal means to be sanctioned by Islamic law, the opposite being 'haram', which means it is unlawful according to Islam A third category, mashbooh, is not so clear as it means a product is doubtful or questionable - in which case it has to be examined according to Islamic law. Haram products include the following: pork and pork by-products, animals improperly slaughtered or killed in the name of anyone other than Allah (God), alcohol, blood and blood by-products. This means that any food that has come into contact with, or contains traces of, these foods are not halal. Some questionable mashbooh foods are those containing gelatin, enzymes, or emulsifiers, because the origin of these ingredients is not always known. With eight million Muslims in the US, and the average family in the country spending around $2100 on food yearly, Chaudry estimates the US Halal market to be worth $16bn. Muslim immigrants and their second generation children both look for halal. According to Chaudry, there are a variety of means in which people buy halal foods in the US. There are those who buy from a local and trusted source, such as from a Muslim store owner. But this option is limited because it can be difficult for a store owner to supply a variety of goods or keep a close watch on the production of these items, he said. There are also those who only eat based on the principle that if there is not pork or alcohol in a product, that is enough for them, or if someone tells them a food is halal, they trust that. The other method is certification, which allows a manufacturer to then put a symbol on their packaging letting consumers know their product has passed the test. This symbol attracts not only Muslim consumers, but other too who see it as value-added. "There is a perception that there are less chemicals in halal products," said Chaudry. "Incidental users have a good perception of them because the products have less complicated ingredients and taste good." Finally, with recent crises surrounding food contamination, Halal certification cannot hurt a product's overall image. "A huge part of our food program is sanitation and safety," said Chaudry.

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