Growing Demand For Halal Testing

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Mark Sykes, scientific advisor at Fera Science Limited in the UK, reports on the increasing demand for Halal certification and proficiency testing around the world as demand for Halal products soars.

                                                                                            Elisa Azzali
Examples of confectionery made with gelatin, normally obtained
from animals.

The world population is predicted to be 9.4 billion in 2050, an increase of 2.4 billion. To put that into perspective, it is expected that we need to produce between 60-110 percent more food. This population is expected to be wealthier, eating more and eating differently, with meat consumption expected to noticeably increase as incomes rise.

As a result, the demand for Halal products is expected to significantly increase. There are currently around 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, and the global halal industry is estimated to be worth around US$2.3 trillion (excluding Islamic finance) which is growing at staggering rate; an estimated annual rate of 20 percent. It’s one of the fastest growing consumer segments in the world and it’s no longer confined to food and food related products as is often presumed.

The halal industry has now expanded far beyond the food sector to include pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, health products, toiletries and medical devices as well as service sector components such as logistics, marketing, print and electronic media and packaging. This illustrates the commercial opportunities for many businesses producing and distributing Halal products.

But with these opportunities, comes the increasing demand for independent Halal certification from buyers and consumers. What is driving this is not absolutely clear but certainly the fact that the Gulf countries import almost all their food and recent high profile cases in the media of food adulteration are likely to be factors.

Also, as the number of products increase, so does the number claiming to be Halal, leading to a demand for official verification. Purchasers need to have trust in their suppliers, and when trading in an international market, it can be difficult to be certain of the supplier’s authenticity without recognised testing.

Halal Testing

So what can we test for? The definition of Halal depends partly on interpretation of the Koran. There are religious (ceremonial) as well as practical elements to the definition. In terms of scientific testing, we have to define Halal food products as being free of non-permitted ingredients.

Basically, this refers to cross contamination; either by accidental cross-contamination or adulteration for economic gain. To date, there is no laboratory test on the market that can determine the way in which an animal is slaughtered. Therefore, the scientific testing within the Halal industry is strictly concentrated on contamination.

Method trends by year to determine meat authenticity.

This is easily explained using the example of meat, and the presence of pork. Species of origin testing is obviously paramount in this market. This can be carried out using DNA or protein sequencing. The DNA structure of specific meats is different, so by close inspection of the genetic order, you can identify the species.

The need for this testing will likely become more and more important, particularly as the consumption of ready meals in the Halal market increase. It has been found that ready meals have the highest risk of being contaminated, for example, in ready-made lasagne or burgers. Simply, it is easier to contaminate and therefore this has become an area of the food sector that is increasingly under the microscope.

Another concern of Halal consumers is the contamination with alcohol, particularly in confectionery or soft drinks. Alcohol is a very effective and relatively inexpensive preservative that can therefore be attractive as an ingredient for economic gain.

Avoidable examples would be liqueur-centred chocolates or sauces made with a wine reduction (alcohol is not necessarily all boiled off) but this would depend on correct labelling. Even a percentage as small as 0.1 percent of alcohol should be readily detectable with current technology. Detection capability is always improving however, across all analytical disciplines, so the same would be true of Halal detection.

Challenges To Achieving Halal Certification

Thomas Bjørkan

There are various organisations throughout the world that carry out Halal certification. Certification usually involves inspection of food preparing facilities and abattoirs for compliance.

The main challenges are for manufacturers attempting to produce both Halal and non-Halal foods. There would have to be totally segregated facilities to avoid cross-contamination and staff trained specifically in Halal production. This is a significant cost to a business, requiring them to build the infrastructure to enable them to effectively segregate all procedures involved with the manufacture of the products.

As a result of this, there will likely be an expected rise in the demand for disclaimer labelling, whereby food manufacturers have to declare other products made in the same location. Future food manufacturers will have to accept they will need to be transparent in all their activities to gain the integrity required on the changing global market.

Food testing laboratories similarly have to have segregated facilities to handle Halal and non-Halal (or suspected non-Halal) facilities. Logistically it can be very challenging. But it is critical to have segregated facilities to ensure reliable results. For them to be able to confidently offer the service, labs often have agreements to test each other.

Historically, this has been acceptable in some countries, with Halal being very much a self-regulatory industry. However, the growing demand and the globalisation of the food industry means that international businesses now dictate more formal and recognised methods of accreditation are used.

Labs are coming under more and more pressure to meet the International Standard for Scientific Methods (ISO 17025), which is internationally recognised and requires the lab to be proficiency tested from an accredited quality assurance body. This demonstrates to the marketplace competence in Halal testing. It is now a major selling point for labs to meet ISO 17025 in, as previously explained, a growing and significant market.

The need to change is not exclusive to the food manufacturers or the labs either. The quality assurance bodies, who are responsible for giving the labs accreditation, and ensuring their testing methods are reliable, have also needed to adapt.

Future Of Halal

New and exciting innovations in the testing methods for Halal products are currently being developed and labs are investing heavily in the research of testing methods and the technology to carry out the tests. These promise to offer the ability to detect contaminants at extremely low levels; much lower than previously achieved. And as these tests get more and more sensitive, the trust and confidence in Halal certification will increase; this is important for the credibility of the industry.

It is crucial that consumers are confident on the authenticity of the Halal products they are purchasing for the future success of this changing industry. It is an exciting marketplace to be involved in and one that has so far embraced the added scrutiny it has been under. Credit needs to be given to the Halal industry for being so open to change which they acknowledge is necessary for the future of the industry.