By Najib N. Ssekikubo
Uganda is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Corporation (OIC) and ratified the OIC-SEG Halal standards. The standards were adopted by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) as Uganda standards.
The country currently has seven halal standards including: US 909:2011, general standard for halal food; US 910:2011, for halal certification bodies; US 911:2011, for bodies accrediting certification bodies; US 996-1:2012, on cosmetics and personal care products.
Others are: US 996-2:2015, on usage of animal bone, skin and hair; US 1544:2015, medicinal products, traditional medicines and health supplements; and US 1581:2015 Halalan-Toyyiban assurance pipeline for transportation of goods and/or cargo chain services.
The Capital Shoppers Supermarket Halal Pork incident and the way it was handled was a great humiliation to the Muslim community. It exposed the weakness and attitude of the standards body towards halal; and the nature of other bodies providing halal certification in the country.
Even after Capital Shoppers issuing an apology to the Muslim community for the transgressions, the standards body issued a press release indicating that the inspection they did found no halal pork at the supermarket. This must have been a deliberate move by UNBS to downplay her standards on halal.
The independent intervention of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) and Uganda Halal Bureau (UHB) also left the Muslims confused on who was mandated to do so. It should however be noted, that none of the two bodies had that mandate but rather UNBS.
Apparently, there is no company that is legally accredited to do halal certification. The work is instead voluntarily done by three bodies: UHB on grounds of a loose memorandum of understanding signed with UNBS; UMSC and Halal Company ltd.
However, certification by the last two bodies is not traceable to Uganda halal standards. Surprisingly, some bodies have exploited the loopholes to illegally make a killing at the expense of the halal consumers.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards must be at the forefront of protecting consumer rights. The right to halal consumption is a sensitive issue in the Muslim community that not only ensures health and safety, but also hinges on religious affiliation. Any contravention should therefore be treated with the seriousness it requires.
I believe the Capital Shoppers case was a blessing in disguise for the Muslim community to collectively demand for the implementation of halal standards. It is prudent that UNBS carries out a critical audit of the bodies doing halal certification to ensure that they are consistent with provisions in US 910:2011.
Those that qualify should be tasked to process accreditation for recognition and trust to act on behalf of the Muslim community against non-halal consumption; those that don’t qualify should be stopped with immediate effect.
For effective protection, I call upon the Muslim community to collectively demand that US 909:2011 is declared compulsory for all foods and beverages, only leaving out those in the clear category of pork and alcohol.
Halal certification is not only beneficial to Muslims; it opens up local and international trade opportunities for Ugandan products in markets that consider it a prerequisite for any consumption. This is also of great importance to the country in terms of balance of payment.
I should state without fear of contradiction, that the current halal certification regime with non-accredited halal bodies doing certification that is not traceable to UNBS standards, exposes the Muslim community to non-halal consumption, despite having ratified OIC-SEG (international) halal standards.
The standards body should thus do the needful to ensure that guidelines on halal standards are implemented, most especially US 909, US 910 and US 911.
This however requires the entire Muslims community to pressurize UNBS to fulfill her obligation, having deliberately neglected it for the last nine years.
Najib is the Press Secretary for the Mumsa Alumni Forum (MAF)