CAIRO - Eyeing a share of the $400-billion global halal food market, Brazilian meat producers are vying to ensure compliance with Islamic religious and hygiene standards to acquire the halal stamp that unlocks access to huge markets in the Muslim world.
"There have been no complaints [on halal authenticity] raised to the ministry in recent years," Michel Abdo Halaby, director-general and chief executive of the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, told the Gulf News on Monday, February 20.
As the sun shines in the tiny town of Palmeira de Goias in the southeastern state of Goias, work starts at Minerva's halal unit where three Muslim men work in shifts to slaughter 1,600 heads of cattle according to halal slaughter method.
"Bismallah (in the name of Allah)", utters the slaughter, a Sudanese Muslim man before he cuts their jugular veins with a sharp knife so the animals die quickly in compliance with halal customs.
Being the third biggest producer and exporter of beef in Brazil, Minerva has a dedicated plant in for halal slaughter only.
Minerva's halal unit in Palmeira de Goias is the biggest out of its 10 plants in Brazil with a capacity of 350 tonnes a day.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
According to the Islamic rituals, the animal is slaughtered by a sharp blade.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
About 40 percent of Brazil's total meat exports are Shari`ah-compliant, according to estimates.More than 95 percent of that production is exported to Middle East and Arab Asian countries.
According to the 2001 census, there are 27,239 Muslims in Brazil.
However, the Islamic Brazilian Federation puts the number at around one and a half million.
Precious Halal Label
Any violation of the halal process by manufacturers is never tolerated by the Commerce Chamber."We inform the Brazilian exporter, the certification entity in Brazil and the Brazilian authorities (Ministry of Agriculture, Cattle), that the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce will not allow the export, and the exporter needs to change all the documents and present a declaration informing what went wrong with the certification, for instance," Halaby told the Gulf News.
Seeking a guaranteed halal meat, Islamic countries send their delegates to Brazil to monitor the halal slaughter process to ensure compliance with Islamic standards.
Halal certification in Brazil relies on independent halal certification bodies approved by Islamic authorities in Arab countries, said Celio Porto, secretary for Agribusiness International Relations in the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible only for the hygienic compliances and the validity of product labels, he said.
The Chamber, officially recognized by the Arab League, guarantees and issues a Certificate of Origin for the products to facilitate trade between exporters and importers.
Currently, 100 Brazilian beef companies are submitting their halal certifications to the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce for verification, according to Halaby.
Another 25 companies are considering adapting their plant for halal slaughtering or other halal procedures to export processed food such as candy, cocoa or chocolate.
Halal food is consumed not only by 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, but also by at least 500 million non-Muslims.
Along with halal food, other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.