A government body on Monday removed the word “halal” from a red meat manual that it issues to lay down the contours of meat export — a move that came in the backdrop of allegations by some Hindu groups that the use of the term gives an unfair business advantage to Muslim exporters.
“Halal” is a term used for consumables permitted under Islam. Meat that is slaughtered in a certain way is also labelled as “halal-certified”. Several Islamic countries import only “halal-certified” meat.
A section of the older manual by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) — it functions under the commerce ministry — read: “…The animals are slaughtered strictly according to ‘Halal’ method to meet the requirement of Islamic countries”. In the revised version, that section reads: “The animals are slaughtered to the requirement of importing country/importer.”
Exporters pointed out that certification of meat was done in view of the requirements of the exporting country, as mentioned in the revised manual as well, and that the removal of the term “halal” had little or no implications on the ground, but admitted that it carried symbolic significance.
A debate has been raging with a section of Hindu groups complaining that use of the word in the manual implied that APEDA was making it mandatory for exporters to buy and acquire only “halal-certified” meat . They argue that apart from Islamic countries in West Asia, India also exports meat to countries such as China and Sri Lanka, where “halal” certification is not needed. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is among those vocal on the issue.
The manual is a compendium of information on issues such as quality and food safety standards to be followed, freezing, packaging and labelling requirements, edible offal and other by-products of meat. It also contains elaborate information on various government regulations for export of meat.
Another reference in the previous manual to animals slaughtered by “halal” method in the presence of representatives of recognised Islamic bodies for certification to meet the requirement of Muslim countries has also been replaced with: “The animals are slaughtered to the requirement of importing country/importer.”
APEDA officials did not respond to calls till the filing of this report. But on December 27, it clarified in a tweet that, as claimed by some Hindu groups, the government did not impose any condition that only “halal” meat was to be exported. “…It [halal meat] is requirement of majority of importing countries/Importers. Halal Certification agencies are accredited directly by respective importing countries. No Govt agency has any role in this,” it said.
A group called Halal Niyantran Manch (Halal Regulation Forum) took credit after the APEDA move. It had been petitioning the government to do away with the word from the manual.
“The Congress government had forced APEDA to come out with an order that all manufacturers or exporters of meat will have to compulsorily register with APEDA, and buy and acquire only halal-certified meat,” HNM spokesperson Harinder S Sikka said.
“As a result, Hindus, Sikhs, SC and STs (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) all went out of business, which is roughly 40 million-plus people. The government‘s reasoning then was that meat is primarily exported to the Middle East, where the requirement is halal meat. However, this is not the truth. The biggest market for Indian meat is China, which not does not require or give a halal certification. There are many countries such as Sri Lanka that have banned halal certification,” he added.
BJP national spokesperson RP Singh welcomed APEDA’s move.
A meat exporter in Delhi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, however, stressed that the government had no role in the certification of meat for exports. “Certification is done as per the requirements of the importing country. The removal of the term from the manual is of no significance on the ground,” he said.