The government has moved to form a high-profile committee to recommend ways to establish a board for certification for halal foods after repeated appeals from processed food exporters.
The traders have set a target to grab a portion of the $660 billion global market for halal products. In the last six months, around a dozen processed food traders received about $250 million of export orders on condition that the products must be accredited with an authorised halal certification body.
Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines.
Commerce Secretary Md Ghulam Hussain said various Muslim and non-Muslim countries are now increasingly demanding halal products from Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development, which is currently preparing a list of halal certification bodies from Muslim countries, has officially sought a name from Bangladesh.
"We received export orders for halal processed meat and chicken to Malaysia and China. The orders are worth no less than $25 million. But we could not start production before getting certification from an authorised body," said Rafiqul Islam, chief executive officer of Modern Abattoir, one of the five companies that demanded a certification body.
The other food processors are Bengal Meat, Premier Abattoir, Meghna Food Industries and Bangladesh Organic Food Processors.
Mostafizur Rahman, Bengal Meat's CEO, said. “We've a huge market for processed halal meat mainly in the Middle East and South East Asia. But we're failing to tap the potential because of some legal barriers.”
The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are the export destinations of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh's pioneering halal meat processor.
On the barriers meat processors now face, Rahman said being an exporting country Bangladesh has no certification from any other importing countries than Kuwait and Dubai. Obtaining such certification from any importing country is mandatory for an exporting country, as the country concerned is to satisfy the importer that the product exported does not contain any hazardous elements and germs.
The vice chairman of Export Promotion Bureau will head the committee, with representations from the ministries of fisheries and livestock and religious affairs, Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute, Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Bengal Meat and Meghna Condensed Milk.
This body will take necessary steps to form a halal certification board. Its main task will be to monitor and issue certificates ensuring safe, genuinely certified and diversified halal products.
The fisheries and livestock ministry has already prepared a guideline on such certification and sent it to the Islamic Foundation for its perusal.
The Foundation now awaits the opinion from the religious affairs ministry on the issue, according to a high official.
Premium Halal Abattoir, a local company, has signed a deal to export halal meat to Malaysia, as the local processor plans to grab a portion of $50 billion global halal meat market. Under a memorandum of understanding with Barakah Import of Malaysia, Premium will export 50 tonnes of meat a year, with industry people demanding more government supports to explore the potential market.
Another meat processing company, Peninsula Abattoir, is in talks with buyers to export processed meat to European countries.
Apart from demanding a testing agency, the meat processors are seeking government help in establishing a lab for meat processing to meet international standards.
“As establishment of such a lab is very costly, the government should help entrepreneurs in this regard,” said Sahedul Islam Sadi, proprietor of Peninsula Abattoir.