ASTORIA, QUEENS – As the growing Muslim community in the United States has led to a larger demand for halal products and meats, consumers are suspecting fraud in halal claims due to the lack of valid certification.
Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens is home to a thriving Muslim community, many of whom, place an emphasis on the importance of eating halal. Many are now worried about the treachery of labeling food halal when it is actually not genuine.
According to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. All foods are considered halal except swine/pork and their by-products, animals improperly slaughtered, and alcohol among other products. Muslims believe that an animal should be slaughtered in a specific manner. In addition, a prayer must be said during the process.
Muslim shoppers on Steinway voiced their concern for the lack of control of halal food by the government. “I’ve become skeptical,” said Abdelrahim Diouri, a 35 year old Moroccan- American about the halal selling shops. Mr. Diouri said that one of the reasons he buys halal from a certain shop is because he trusts the store owner since he speaks the same language and is from the same country. But he believes that there should be a document certifying that the food products and meats being sold are genuinely halal.
“It should be regulated. It is not regulated the proper way [halal]. Anyone can put a sign up. It should be regulated just like Kosher is” said Leo Santini, a 34 year old Egyptian man who recently changed his name.
Others are putting their trust in higher places. “We are worried,” admitted Abdelhak Akrama, 35, who eats halal“but we have to trust and say Bismillah,” he said referring to the name of God prayer.
Although consumers must have a trust in the self-certified halal food products when there is lack of control and valid certification outside experts such as food scientists can also add value.
“Sometimes it’s not as simple as looking at the nutrition labels and knowing the ingredients are halal,” said Maria Omar, Director of Media Relations at the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA). “Ingredient review as well as manufacturing plant audits is the only way to make sure that a product is halal.” The food scientists at IFANCA provide these audits in order to make sure that products are legitimate under Islam.
“There are currently more than 23,000 IFANCA halal-certified products today worldwide. They range from food ingredients to pharmaceuticals,” said Ms. Omar. However, she does not have the data on the total number of halal products globally.
“There are stores that claim that the meat is halal when it is not. This greatly affected my business,” said Mohamed Saad, the butcher and the owner of Ageba Middle Eastern Groceries and Halal Meats. Non-genuine halal labeled meat is being sold at a cheaper price and therefore, people are purchasing less from Mr. Saad’s store.
Mr. Saad believes that there should be a certificate that says that the meat being sold is halal. He also emphasized that the biggest problem is the lack of control over the products being labeled halal when they might be haram (unlawful or prohibited).
“It is trust, that is all,” said Ahmed Saber, an employee and customer at the Ageba grocery store. Mr. Saber feels that customers have to build a certain level of trust with people selling the halal meat and other food products. His aunt has been purchasing her meat for a long time from Ageba because of the trust she has in Mr. Saad.
Now, the question remains, can trust alone replace professional and valid certification?