The global industry for Halal food and lifestyle products – ones that meet Islamic law standards of manufacture – is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars and is multiplying as Muslim populations grow.
Producers outside the Muslim world, from Brazil to the US and Australia, are eager to tap into the market.
The United Arab Emirates is positioning itself to be their gateway, part of its push to become a global centre of Islamic business and finance.
UAE officials announced last month that the city of Dubai has dedicated around 6.7 million square feet of land in Dubai Industrial City for a "Halal Cluster" for manufacturing and logistics companies that deal in Halal food, cosmetics and personal care items.
Zone just for Halal manufacturers
Dubai Industrial City CEO Abdullah Belhoul said the idea to create a zone just for Halal manufacturers was driven by the increased demand locally and internationally for such products.
"This industry itself, we know it is growing," Belhoul told The Associated Press. He said the industry is expected to double in terms of value within five years. "So we think there is a lot of opportunity... and we need to capitalise on this.
The world's Muslim population is estimated at around 1.6 billiion, and the majority is believed to adhere to or prefer to adhere to Halal products when possible. The general understanding is that Halal products should not be contaminated with pork or alcohol and that livestock is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic Shariah law.
Similar to kosher practices, Islam requires the animal is killed with single slash to the throat while alive. It is intended as a way for animals to die swiftly and minimise their pain.
However, as with most issues in religion, opinions vary greatly over what is permissible and what is not. Despite attempts by international Islamic bodies, such as the World Halal Food Council, to achieve worldwide guidelines, there are no global standards for Halal certifications.
Stricter interpreters of Shariah say chicken must be slaughtered by hand to be considered Halal. Others say it is acceptable if the chicken is slaughtered by machine, as is the case in much of the fast-paced food industry around the world.
To accommodate various Muslim consumers, several companies even specify on their packaging how the chicken was slaughtered.
Belhoul said that if Halal products are manufactured in the UAE, they will need to be certified Halal by the government body that oversees this.
But, as with most countries, if the Halal products, such as livestock or raw material, are being imported from abroad for processing in the UAE, then the stamp of approval comes from Islamic organisations in the exporting country.
This is where organisations such as Halal Control in Germany have an important role to play, said General Manager Mahmoud Tatari. He said that when the company started 14 years ago in Europe, there was little awareness or demand for Halal products.
Today, Halal Control has 12 Islamic scholars who offer guidance on certifications to international companies such as Nestle and Unilever who want to do business in the Muslim world.
Halal Control, which concentrates on products made in Europe, does not certify meat and poultry, but almost everything else from dairy products to food ingredients.
Tatari said Muslims around the world may think they are eating Halal-certified food, but that often raw materials may include alcohol or pork gelatin in candies and soups, or may have been cross-contaminated during production.
"It is a process and this will take maybe now five to 10 years (until) we can more safely eat Halal," he said.
US manufacturers, such as Kelloggs and Hershey, plan to build Halal-compliant plants in Malaysia. The Oxford Business Group says Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, plans to establish a centre for the Halal industry in 2015. In Thailand, more than a quarter of food factories are already making Halal products.
But it is in the Gulf, where countries almost entirely rely on food imports, where the Halal industry seems to have the biggest potential for growth in the coming years.
Poultry from Brazil
Brazil is the world's second top exporter of meat and poultry to Muslim-majority countries after the US. The Brasil Food Company, which is among the world's largest food companies, plans to open its first manufacturing site in the Middle East in UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, in June. The factory will process poultry from Brazil for repackaging and shipping to other countries.
Already in Muslim-majority countries, outlets like McDonald's, Subway and Papa John's pizza serve Halal to their customers.
There are currently around 30 Halal certification bodies in the US and several mainstream supermarkets that carry Halal food items.
Even in markets where Muslims are not the majority, there are billions of dollars to be made in the Halal industry. The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, a not-for-profit Halal certification organization, said the domestic US Halal market is estimated at $20 billion.
Mark Napier, director of the Gulfood trade show that brings together more than 4 500 food and beverage vendors from around the world to the Dubai World Trade Centre annually, said producers of Halal products want to serve markets where their supply is not keeping up with demand.
Jewish kosher products
Many Muslims in the West buy Jewish kosher products when their Halal counterparts are not available.
"Food business is big business," Napier said. "Producers are increasingly aware of the need for Halal standards and certification and bringing that to the fore of their export promotions."
Image: Halal from Shutterstock
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