It is not just the food that Muslims consume that needs to be tested and certified to be halal compliant, pharmaceutical drugs and prescriptive medicine too are being scrutinized for its suitability for the over 1.8 billion global Muslim population.
The concept of halal is important for Muslims as it governs what can and cannot be consumed. Halal, an Arabic word meaning permissible in Islamic laws, is not restricted to just food and beverage consumption, but also include a way of life for Muslims including behavior, dressing, social interactions and every other aspect aligned with its religious beliefs.
According to the Pew Research Center, the global Muslim population – which currently makes up roughly 25% of the world’s population – is projected to increase by 70% to nearly three billion by 2060, making it the second-largest population worldwide.
More importantly, this consumer segment is going to form a big chunk of the world’s consumer spending. The Economist expects the global halal market will be worth over USD 5 trillion by 2020, with halal food alone projected to be worth USD 1.6 trillion by 2018 and exceed 17% of the world food market by then.
Since the halal certification initiative first started in the US during the mid-1960s, it has become an important accreditation for businesses to ensure their halal products comply to Islamic regulations and to provide assurance of a product’s reliability.
No food, finished goods or services can be labeled as halal unless they are certified by an authorized certification agency within the country where they are produced or provided. Hence, many countries have established halal certifying bodies to ensure standardized certifying processes are correctly carried out.
Among the South East Asian nations, halal certification from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are the most recognized due to the established halal ecosystem in their respective countries. Having these labels displayed on packaging for food, beverage as well as cosmetics and personal care products assures users of the quality and safety of these products.
While many people know that pork meat is not permissible to be consumed in Islam, some may not be aware that all meat and poultry are required to be sourced from healthy animals that were slaughtered in a single cut. This is just one example of the extensive halal philosophy.
It is not just the type of food but also the ingredients used, how it is manufactured, packaged, stored, transported and sold to consumers. As an example, Malaysia was the first country in the world to introduce halal logistics standards and halal certification for logistics service providers.
Halal products must be safeguarded from contamination across the entire product cycle and strict sanitary regulations must be upheld from the abattoirs right up to the supermarket shelves. Among the biggest concern for Muslims is porcine contamination in food.
Gelatin is a protein based produce from porcine. Because it is translucent, colorless, flavorless and brittle, gelatin has become one of the most widely used food modifiers. The gelatin from different animal species are very similar but not identical with unique difference in the amino acid sequence, making it difficult to trace their species origin by using conventional spectroscopy methods.
Thus, stringent food testing procedures for the presence of porcine have become increasingly important for halal food manufacturers.
Recognized as among the leaders in developing the global halal industry, Malaysia recently became the first country to implement halal certification for prescriptive medicine. The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia was appointed as the first halal certifying body to certify controlled/prescriptive medicines based on the world’s first halal pharmaceutical standard MS2424:2012.
Prior to the halal pharmaceutical standard, the halal food standard MS1900 was the reference point for pharmaceutical manufacturers, but this was not ideal as it was not tailored to the complexities of the pharmaceutical industry
An example is the testing of emulsifier, which acts as a stabilizer and thickener for pharmaceuticals and food products. Emulsifier comes from synthetic fatty acids derived from natural fatty acids and glycerol from animal or plant. In Malaysia, there are requirements to identify the source of emulsifier used and if it passes the required halal standards.
With the global halal pharmaceutical market currently valued at USD 75 billion and estimated to reach USD 132 billion by 2021, having a standardized certification process for the halal pharmaceutical market will be another important step forward for the industry.
Although South East Asia is at the forefront of halal testing and certification processes, there is evidently increased interest from other countries worldwide. Governments recognize that in addition to the rising number of Muslim consumers, halal certification can open up significant global trade opportunities for their businesses and boost economic performance.
Governments around the world, especially from Muslim nations, are stepping up efforts to set up halal testing laboratories, with Bangladesh the latest to jump on the bandwagon. It revealed plans to have its first such facility to provide test reports primarily on food items before gradually expanding the facility for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other products.
This follows the Philippines’ recent announcement to open its first halal testing lab in the country. Working in collaboration with DKSH since 2015, the country’s Department of Science & Technology plans to set up these labs in different regions across the country.
These facilities would feature various technologies and equipment including for the determination of porcine using liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry (LCMSMS) and determination of ethanol and fatty acids profile using headspace gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GCMS).
Based on what I have heard and seen for myself on the growing necessity by consumers, business travelers and tourists for halal certified products, especially over here in Asia, I believe that halal testing will play a much greater role in the coming years ahead.
Marco Farina joined DKSH in February 2016 as General Manager, Business Line Scientific Instrumentation, Business Unit Technology. He oversees global business development and has spent the last ten years developing and growing business in different emerging markets in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. He now lives in Bangkok with his wife and two kids.