Feature: Philippines' halal initiatives take world stage
By Danilo E. Doguiles
Koronadal City (11 June) -- Determined efforts of the Department of Science and Technology Region 12 (DOST 12) to put halal science and technology (S&T) of the country on the forefront has finally achieved due prestige, a very rare recognition in the exclusive world of halal industry.
DOST 12 Regional Director Bai Hadja Sittie Shayma Zenaida P.Hadji Raof-Laidan was invited as the only Filipino honorary speaker to the World of Halal Science, Industry, and Business Conference in conjunction with the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) Phuket Halal Expo and Thai Muslims Cultural Fair on June 19 ? 20 in Sapanhin, Phuket, Thailand.
Remarkably, Philippines is the sole non-Muslim country that will be represented in this international gathering of world leaders, businessmen, scientists, and other stakeholders in halal industry -- fundamentally exclusive to Muslim countries.
"I will be talking to world leaders in science, private sector representatives, industry leaders and other stakeholders in the global halal market about our country's experience in halal science and technology for halal accreditation and certification," Dr. Laidan said.
She is scheduled to address hundreds of participants at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, June 20, after a speaker from Halal Science Center of Chulalongkorn University of Thailand and the director of LPPOM-Majlis Ulama Indonesia (Institute for Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics).
They will comprise the first set of report presenters for the two-day conference.
Dr. Laidan was also invited to attend the meeting of the technical working group (TWG) of the IMT-GT on June 18 although the Philippines is not a member this regional partnership.
"The IMT-GT TWG has recognized the Philippines's strong efforts and directions. They appreciate our halal industry interventions, particularly in accreditation and analysis," she explained.
Beginning of recognition
The Philippines' halal initiatives, being spearheaded by DOST 12, came to the consciousness of the world halal industry in 2006 when Dr. Laidan attended the World Halal Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where she introduced the agency's strategies to develop the halal industry through the application of science and technology.
"Although we are not a Muslim country, Philippines has established a national halal forensic laboratory to advance the integrity of our products and promote the credibility of local certifiers.
"The establishment of the halal laboratory and our other efforts to promote the halal industry despite the fact that we are not a Muslim country has caught the attention of the global halal industry," she said.
Last year, Dr. Laidan, along with a Philippine delegation, was invited to the Brunei International Conference on Halal where she received commendation for making halal a primary undertaking of the agency.
Halal is an Arabic term which literally means lawful or legal. Often, the term is used to designate food that can be consumed after a proper method of preparation as well as those food that do not contain pork meat and byproducts and blood.
"Halal encompasses so many industries and is not limited to food," she pointed out. "So many products should be halal."
"For example, cosmetics such as lipsticks for Muslim communities should be halal. There are manufacturers that use gelatins made from by-products of pork.
"We are also concerned with other components such as lead and other intoxicants, which are detrimental to health.
"If an animal is slaughtered, we have to test that the animal has not been treated with antibiotics because this means that the animal was sick, and that is haraam (forbidden)," she added.
The Philippine Halal Initiative
Notwithstanding the fact that Philippines is largely Christian-populated, the country's master plan for the halal industry puts this sector at the vanguard of government research and development (R & D).
"We are promoting the local industry to be able to tap the global halal market. Therefore, we need to uplift the integrity of our product and boost the credibility of the local certifiers," she said.
Central to this plan to get a slice in the large market dominated by the Muslim countries is the establishment of a comprehensive accreditation and certification system that will guarantee that the products (and processes) conform to the international halal standards.
"Industries in the Philippines that produce halal products are certified by certifiers that lack the capability to scientifically validate the authenticity of the products based on halal standards and do not have the necessary equipment for product testing.
"Also these certifiers do not have proper accreditation. So the products that are exported to Muslim countries are returned to the Philippines; others were simply thrown as garbage to the loss of the manufacturers.
"To address this problem, we at DOST established a halal forensic laboratory where products are tested for contaminants. This will assure buyers in the world market that the products are purely halal," she explained.
At present, DOST-12 has a mini-laboratory with the necessary equipment for a comprehensive product analysis and testing. This is located at the regional center in Cotabato City. However, another, much bigger laboratory is being constructed in the prime government center in Koronadal City.
The new facility, to be named the Philippine National Halal Laboratory, will provide facilities for a broader and more comprehensive R & D on halal.
In addition to the halal forensic laboratory, the four-storey building will also house a technology incubation center where halal technologies are developed, generated, verified, and disseminated.
It will also feature a training facility where manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and interested individuals are provided with knowledge and skills on halal products and processes.
Benefits for Private Sector
Dr. Laidan, emphasized that the efforts of the agency are not intended to compete with the private sector.
She explained, "We are here to help the private sector, especially the product certifiers. Since they do not have the necessary equipment, they will endorse the products to the DOST laboratory for testing. Once specific products are tested to be authentic halal, we send back the product to the certifier for certification.
"DOST will not certify the product because it is the responsibility of the private certifier. Our duty is to accredit them (certifiers) in technical aspect, specifically in matters involving laboratory processes. The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), formerly Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA), will accredit them in terms the religious aspects."
Both accreditations are necessary for the products to be accepted in the global halal market.
Moreover, DOST 12 is also promoting halal practices among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them penetrate the global halal market.
Along this line, DOST 12 provides the necessary equipment, training, consultancy services, packaging and labeling assistance, and other services needed for a better competitiveness.
"For the halal SMEs, we look at a more comprehensive perspective. We look at the value chain and we help them connect with multiple sectors. We see to it that the interventions we provide will have wider spillover effect in the entire value chain," she stressed.
She sees the recognition of these initiatives as a major step toward acceptance of the Philippines in the global market of halal products. (PIA 12) [top]