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NEWS UPDATES 7 June 2010

Sultanate won't allow any short cuts on halal accreditation standards

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THE cost of getting the Brunei halal accreditation may be hefty, but the Sultanate won't allow any short cuts that could lower the standards, the Minister of the Industry and Primary Resources yesterday said at the close of the International Halal Market Conference.

Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Abu Bakar said the cost "is quite a substantial amount, but it is affordable, and it would have to be part of their cost. I have heard complaints from SMEs (small and medium enterprises) about the accreditation, but the accreditation is done properly and the moment you reduce the cost then you are short cutting the process."

These are among the challenges Brunei has to deal with as it looks ahead to the next decade.

In an interview with The Brunei Times, the minister said that Brunei needs to look at previous lessons and see what needs to be done. He quoted the conference's theme, "Halal The Next Decade", saying that going forward, the Sultanate has to analyse the present and review the past.

"We've seen a glimpse of the future and we've seen the limitations of the past and present, so from there, hopefully we'll come up with solutions, some directions and strategy to prepare ourselves," said Pehin Dato Hj Yahya.

On the accreditation, he stressed that the process fee was not put in place to "make money", but that aspects of the accreditation process costs money.

"It's because of the work involved, and you have to send auditors, supervisors, and check the processes, not for the sake of getting money, but it is the process of assuring authenticity and it is assuring that the process is covered even to the point of export," he said.

"Containers have to be certified and locked properly by the religious affairs auditors, and these don't come free, they need to be paid," he added.

Asked if this would mean that the accreditation process is limited only to larger companies and food exporters as SMEs won't be able to afford the cost, the minister said that "this could be another point that needs to be looked at".

"It must not be at the cost of authenticity and the assurance given. The moment you make it easily available, the quality will be compromised. That's the thing about it, it is not easily compromised, faked or manipulated.

"The certificate is more protected, unique and that's part of the process of sending people here and there. It's money consuming and it's not free," he said.

The minister added that "halal" is about transparency and that the guidelines for getting the certificates are easily and readily available to businesses. "There are a lot of accreditation bodies and certificates around the world. Some may not meet up in terms of the way they do it, and in terms of the processes, and some may have been compromised, like when they do the certification there may have been a short cut here and there," said Pehin Dato Hj Yahya.

He noted that during one of the sessions at the conference, there was a mention where someone photocopied the certificates needed and was still given a halal accreditation.

"That is not what we do. In our case, before they can use the certificate, they have to apply and have to pay for it. It is a cost, but the cost comes with quality and assurance and that is what it's all about," he said.

Another challenge Pehin Dato Hj Yahya mentioned, which was widely discussed during the conference, was on getting global acceptance of Brunei's standards and certification.

"It is a challenge for others to recognise our certification because other countries have their own standards, but they may not accept ours so it's quite difficult," he said.

However, Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said that Brunei's intention is not out of obligation, but is out of sincerity and the country's religious duty.

"Halal products and ways, according to our principles. Those are all ideas of Brunei Halal's point of view and those are all stringent, strict and thorough processes. We don't leave it to commercial entities or private sectors to certify for us. It has to be supervised from the government and audited by the government," he said, adding that these are funded by the government.

That is the fact of Brunei's halal certification process and hopefully that becomes something that people from other countries can accept, because it's not out of any other interest, he said. "It is religion and sincerity, so hopefully (we will be accepted)."

Yesterday, the conference showcased halal strategies from the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and United Kingdom.

When asked how Brunei processes compare with those from other countries', Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said there is a degree of difference in processes, stressing the Sultanate is not so lenient in issuance of certificates.

"For the slaughter process, there was mention of stunning and non-stunning the animal. In our case it is quite clear. Before stunning can be done, there has to be some standards of life. For example you can't expect a chicken to be alive after getting stunned," he said.

He also touched on how auditors and supervisors ensure that meat does not mingle or mix with other meats as stated in the guidelines.

"Things like these are the values we are putting in as Brunei Halal. Those values are costly for some, but there is no short cut here. Even though costly, it's the government's responsibility to make sure they are halal. Some agencies may think there can be a short cut, which leads to some standards being compromised," said Pehin Dato Hj Yahya.

"We are not doing this only for commercial interest. For some, they say it's difficult and how stringent it is will add costs, but that's the standard we've developed and that's what it is," the minister said.

The effort to come out with a book on halal guidelines started in 2007 when a book on Halal Certificates and Brunei Darussalam Standard for Halal Food was published. Experts in the global halal arena who have reviewed the guidelines have stated that the guidelines are the "most comprehensive" set of standards that are available in the global market right now.



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