Politics

Senate to investigate halal certification as small businesses urged to “put the facts on the table”

Eloise Keating /

The Federal Parliament’s Economics Reference Committee will undertake a six-month inquiry into food certification schemes, including halal certification, after the Senate supported a motion by South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi on Wednesday afternoon.

Bernardi has been a fierce critic of practices associated with halal certification of feed products in Australia and told the Guardian yesterday, I “keep getting told any number of things about certification schemes and I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true, so I want to establish the facts”.

Australian brands, including Byron Bay Cookies, Pauls Iced Coffee and even Vegemite, have been the subject of online attacks during the past year by consumers who oppose halal certification.

In November 2014, South Australian dairy manufacturer The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company decided to drop its halal certification in the face of online criticism, while Australian winemaker Jacob’s Creek was forced to defend its products from social media attacks in April, despite products containing alcohol being unable to receive halal certification.

Bernardi’s inquiry motion was supported by 34 senators, including his Coalition colleagues, as well as six crossbenchers: Bob Day, Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus, David Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Ricky Muir. The motion was opposed by 30 senators from the Labor and Greens parties.

The inquiry, which will run until November, will not be confined to halal certification only, with the committee tasked with also investigating certification schemes related to organic, kosher and genetically modified food, as well as “general food safety certification schemes”.

The committee will look at the current labelling requirements associated with the schemes, the need for product labelling being produced by businesses that pay certification fees, and whether the current schemes provide enough information to consumers.

It has also been asked to uncover details about the fees associated with certification schemes, the importance of food certification schemes for exporters, and how much information is available to the general public about the certification process.

Greens small business spokesperson Peter Whish-Wilson was one of the senators who voted against Bernardi’s proposal. He told SmartCompany this morning the Greens support mandatory food labelling standards and want to “encourage voluntary schemes that give businesses the freedom and flexibility to brand products in the way they want”.

But Whish-Wilson believes the government will “shoot itself in the foot” by initiating an inquiry that could undermine voluntary certification schemes.

“For the Liberal Party to launch a government-dominated inquiry to attack voluntary labelling schemes is hypocrisy and against their principles,” Whish-Wilson says.

Whish-Wilson says he receives “hundreds” of anti-halal certification emails from a range of different people and although he didn’t vote to support the inquiry, he hopes now that it will proceed it will take an “evidence-based approach”.

“It’s a very touchy subject for some Australians,” he says.

“I hope the businesses that do have halal certification get to the inquiry and put the facts on the table.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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