This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Monday 22 August 2016

A sustainable and secure food future needs #halal

The industrial food system faces many challenges. In recent decades the increasing production and consumption of high calorie, cheap processed food has undermined food security and contributed to a rapid increase in obesity and diet related ill health worldwide (Carolan 2013). The overuse of antibiotics in industrial animal agriculture provides a good example of the issues involved. Many global food companies use antibiotics to prevent rather than treat disease on factory farms and this is now recognized as a major contributory factor in the increase of antibiotic resistance worldwide (Akhtar, 2012). This is hugely significant for animal, environmental and human health and a number of studies have shown that antibiotics in the human food chain contribute to diet related ill health (Collins 2012; Lam et al 2012). Not surprisingly, a backlash against antibiotic use is emerging and there is an embryonic movement for factory farm divestment (Levitt 2016).

Global expansion 

To some extent, the global expansion of halal can be linked with concerns and anxieties about industrial food production. The halal food industry is estimated to be worth around $700 billion and with the Muslim population expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion by 2030 the opportunities on the horizon are vast (Bergeaud-Blackler et al 2016). In Arabic, the word ‘halal’ literally means ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful’ and in relation to food in particular it signifies ‘purity’ and is protected by certain Islamic practices. A number of Muslim requirements have been met in the global food industry, including injunctions to avoid substances where there is a threat of cross contamination from unacceptable ingredients, yet it has also been argued that the halal certification industry must make it easier for halal consumers to chose healthier food options (Tieman 2016). Much as the UK food industry is under pressure to shorten supply chains and improve sustainability in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal of 2013, so there is a focus in Malaysia – a leading player in the global halal industry – to incorporate thoyyib[1] into all stages of halal production and assurance. 

Halal assurance first emerged in Malaysia in the 1980s and Malaysia has since become recognised as a major halal hub in Southeast Asia through cooperation with states such as Indonesia, Brunei and Australia. Instrumental in the development of internationally recognised halal standards, Malaysia has been particularly successful in bridging Islamic traditions with the demands of international markets though its state led certification scheme overseen by JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia) and Nestlé Malaysia. This has added a new dimension to the global production and consumption of halal and Malaysia is pursuing plans to become a global halal hub by improving all aspects the global supply chain. A better understanding of the notion of thoyyib is now seen to be central to this process. 

What is thoyyib? 

Little understood, thoyyib is an integrative concept that relates to food safety and quality-produced food and a number of links can be made with sustainable food production and consumption. There has been growing Muslim interest in organic halal food in Europe for a number years and London recently hosted the UK’s first Halal Food Festival, which attracted many consumers from beyond the Muslim community. The links between organic food and thoyyib are evident in the shared focus on a hygienic, nutritious and healthy way of life and it has recently been argued that the certification of nutritionally deficient halal products is therefore misleading (Tieman 2016).

Halal and sustainability are now both seen as opportunities. It is no longer enough for producers to focus solely on what type of food is produced – how food is produced is just as important. As well as product ingredients, consumers everywhere are increasingly concerned about farm animal welfare, transport, packaging and waste management, and many are demanding nutritious and quality food options that allow them to lead a healthier lifestyle. Thoyyib provides an opportunity, if better understood, to improve the many aspects of halal production in line with these issues, thus contributing towards a more sustainable and secure food future. Halal is no longer simply an expression of contested forms of production and consumption. It is part of a rapidly expanding, globalized market that is starting to bring the concerns of Muslim and non-Muslim consumers closer together.


Akhtar, A. (2012) Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, Palgrave Macmillan

Bergeaud-Blackler F., Fischer, J. and Lever, J. (2015) Halal Matters: Islam, politics and markets in global perspective London, UK: Routledge.

Carolan, M. (2013) Reclaiming Food Security, Earthscan: Routldege.

Collins, N. (2012) Livestock antibiotics ‘could have contributed to human obesity’, The Telegraph, 22 August

Lam, David W., and LeRoith, D. (2012) “The worldwide diabetes epidemic”, Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity 19.2.

Levitt, T. (2016), Factory farming divestment: what you need to know, The Guardian, 3 March

Tieman, M. (2016) Halal diets, Islam and Civilisational Renewal, 7 (1)

[1] “Halal alone won’t take you far. Food must also be “thoyyiban”. Statement by the President of the Nestlé Halal Committee Regulatory Affairs of Malaysia, published in a Department of Standards Malaysia newsletter http://fr.scribd.com/doc/25463489/SH-Nestle-Malaysia (consulted on January 24, 2014).

This post first appeared on the University of Huddersfield current affairs blog - View from the North on 25 April 2016: http://blogs.hud.ac.uk/academics/blog/2016/04/25/a-sustainable-and-secure-food-future-needs-halal

Thursday 18 August 2016

The expansion of the #halal market in the Balkans

In recent years the halal market in the Balkans has grown rapidly. This is most evdient in Bosnia & Herzegovina, which has a Muslim population of around 50%. However, since the establishment of Center for Halal Quality Certification in 2010 the halal market in Croatia has also started to expand. The Muslim population in Croatia is only 1.5 % of the population and the the halal market is not very big. While most Croatian companies acquire certification for export purposes and the trade opportunities presented by global markets, Croatia is also emerging as a 'halal friendly' tourist destination in its own right. Across the Balkans supermarkets are starting to stock halal certified products to meet the needs of the Muslim population and the growing number of halal tourists: in Croatia alone 15 hotels, 8 restaurants and catering services, and 7 travel agencies currently hold halal certification.

The Islamic community in Croatia and south-east Europe is highly integrated and only one institution in each Balkan country is authorised to provide certification for halal products and services. There is  also a registered halal standard in Bosnia/ Herzegovina and Croatia that provides the foundations on which to provide halal certification. In this sense, south-east Europe is a unqique case of halal standardisation and accreditation that could be used a benchmark in other countries. 

As a result of the European refugee crisis there has been an increase in the number of enquiries about halal products from a growing Muslim population. As other European countries become stricter about the production and export of halal and kosher food, these opportunities are likely to increase.

This post is based on conversations with Aldin Dugonjić at the Centar za Certificiranje Halal Kvalitete in Zagreb, Croatia.