Sustainable halal food industry

ON many occasions, Malaysian Muslim consumers have been called to boycott certain popular household food products.

Reasons for the boycott may be caused by either non-halal ingredients used in the food products or that the products are made by countries which support the oppression of fellow Muslims worldwide.

Such a reaction has become typical for Malaysian Muslims over the years – an immediate response driven by emotion as soon as the issue hits the headlines.

But the zeal fizzles out when the issue no longer hogs the limelight.

However, do we ever consider or plan out anything that could provide us with a far more sustainable solution that could benefit the Muslim ummah (community) in preparing itself to be self-sustaining in its food supply?

Most of the foods we consume today are the result of extensive research and development in the interrelated fields of food science and technology, which eventually contributes to the food industry – arguably the largest global manufacturing industry in the world, dominated by large multinational corporations.

With in-depth knowledge and expertise in food science and technology, a variety of safe, affordable, and tasty food products can be produced and accepted as popular global household products.

As society evolves over time, food scientists and technologists around the world continuously work to improve the quality of human life by searching for new and better ways of selecting, preserving, processing, packaging and distributing food products, as well as discovering new possible food sources.

Invariably, the global food system grows in size and complexity, with the growth in the worldwide population and Gross Domestic Product, the urbanisation process, the increase in wealth and the way we work and live, all of which leads to different food and eating habits.

The growing demand for more modern food varieties, such as pre-packaged food, is the trend observed today.

Due to changing habits, the global food industry is not the same as it was decades ago, when sources of raw materials were based purely on agricultural activities.

Undoubtedly, the proliferation of modern technology has revolutionised the global food industry and it has become more technology-savvy and knowledge-driven, rather than through the sweat and hard labour we knew before.

Our food today is largely not the product of farmers or fishermen, but rather the products of highly knowledgeable and professional food scientists and technologists.

Indeed, most of the food products originate from science labs rather than farms.

Thus, to cope with mankind’s insatiable demand for food, developing new, safe and more nutritious food varities is a continuous and exciting challenge in the global food industry.

With highly sophisticated technologies employed in food production, such as resource-conserving technologies, dry cooling systems, energy-saving machines and “intelligent” heat recovery engineering solutions and many more innovations and inventions to come, food production is indeed an activity that is highly value-added and high-income from when seen from a macroeconomics perspective.

Economically, the wide and varied range of processes involved in the food industry offer not only employment opportunities aplenty in both public and private sectors but also exciting career paths for aspiring food technologists.

Although different from the conventional choices of medicine, engineering, accounting or law, the food industry promises good prospects and benefits for the growing young Malaysian workforce.

In fact, in recent years there has been a constant demand for expertise in the local food industry.

Furthermore, Malaysia has a large and growing food retail market that is supplied by local as well as imported products.

Indeed, the various opportunities available in the food industry, including halal products, should be seized by Muslims who may not yet be fully aware of the bright future the food industry holds for them.

As of late, the word “boycott” has become the catchphrase of choice for the Muslim community when dealing with halal issues in food manufacturing. Rather than dwell on such matters piecemeal, we should act on overcoming the issue comprehensively and concertedly.

Thinking or planning a strategy is a start that will provide us with a much more sustainable solution that can benefit the entire Muslim ummah.

Undoubtedly, this would put an end once and for all to any further emotional reactions to halal issues.

  • Mohamad Azhar Hashim is Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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