Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Businessmen slam new ruling on `halal' labeling

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Food and beverage producers protested on Wednesday against a plan by the government to change the current halal certification system, saying that it would only increase bureaucracy, production costs and corruption.

If a food or beverage is halal, this means that it may be consumed by Muslims.

Indonesian Food Forum chairman Suroso said that the proposed new system was designed to solely for the purpose of extorting money from businesspeople rather than protecting Muslims from consuming forbidden foodstuffs and beverages.

"We fear that the government will attempt to extort us through the new halal labeling system," said Suroso during a press briefing held by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), and the Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo).

Suroso explained that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had concluded its revision of the existing government regulation on the halal labeling system without any consultation or input from the public.

Currently, the draft revision has just been submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Human Right for further editing. After this, it will be submitted to the President for endorsement, he said.

Under the existing system, businessmen only need to pay between Rp 1 million (around US$121) and Rp 2 million to obtain a halal label.

This figure includes the cost of product inspection by the Ministry of Health and for halal certification by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI).

However, under the proposed system businessmen will have to pay additional fees for package labeling and for paying a supervisory agency to oversee products labeled with halal certificates.

The supervisory agency as proposed in the draft regulation will be a unit of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Regarding the package labeling fee, it will be calculated based upon how many hologram stickers the government will issue for each type of package. The current regulation only obliges a company to print a halal label on its package, which is obviously much cheaper than producing hologram stickers.

Business players have particularly objected to this aspect arguing that companies may have to make additional investments in buying new equipment to produce the stickers.

Meanwhile, Apindo chairman Sofjan Wanandi said that the proposed ruling would trigger an increase in food and beverage prices as businesses would include the additional costs in retail prices.

"Eventually, all the costs of halal certification will be charged to the customers. Don't make things any worse, for Indonesian consumers are already hard-pressed as the prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed following recent fuel price hikes," said Sofjan.

Apindo, Sofjan said, had urged Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agil Husin Al Munawar to drop his plan on the issuance of halal certificates for both imported and domestic products as the scheme would only encourage manipulation and renewed corruption.