Cambodia is to develop a nationwide standard for halal products, providing regulation to an industry that has until now remained local – and small-scale.
At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in June, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to fund a halal-standard training scheme at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, says Sos Mossin, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religion and head of the Cambodian Muslim Association. Mossin says Cambodia has also requested technical help from Thailand.
Last month, the Ministry of Commerce issued a sub-decree to develop the standards. Once completed, businesses and restaurants will be able to apply for certification through the ministry.
Much of the training will likely involve meat: dhabihah, the halal method of slaughter, requires that an animal has its throat slit with a well-sharpened knife; that the butcher be Muslim; and that the blood is drained from the animal.
It’s something that, until now, has rarely been a guarantee in Cambodia.
“Halal products are important, but most restaurants and companies don’t understand much about the standards,” Mossin says. “Cambodia doesn’t even have halal-standard products yet – it uses the [certified] logos without the standards.”
Until now, the Highest Council of Islamic Religious Affairs in Cambodia, the country’s leading Muslim community body, has issued halal certification to businesses here, though local butchers say the process has historically relied more on trust than on inspection. Several organisations also print their own guidelines for halal food production.
The discrepancies can lead to confusion, including duelling “certified” logos. Kit Pheara, an official at the Ministry of Commerce, says the ministry is designing its own logo, because those currently carried on halal food “are unofficial and based on individual design”.
Most of the few halal butchers in Phnom Penh use such a logo. Van Mohamed Raoyany, a butchery manager, says his company is certified by the Cambodian Muslim Association, which provides a printable guide for halal labelling, though Raoyany says his business also takes most of its cues from a set of standards developed in Germany.
Raoyany says his slaughterhouse’s high standards have attracted customers beyond its Muslim base.
“My customers are not only Muslim people,” he says. “Most Khmer people buy from my place because they know that halal meat is better than the market: good animal, good hygiene, and good packaging.”
But Raoyany’s company can’t export. Adopting regimented standards would also let Cambodia enter the global market for halal food, which accounts for 16 per cent of the global food industry and is growing rapidly.
It’s an incentive that is difficult to ignore. Neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam already have halal standards in place, with Thailand’s halal food exports worth $6 billion last year.
“[Other countries] export to Muslim countries and to Europe,” says Mossin. “We want to get more investors to come to Cambodia, and to have more income in the country.”
Implementing standards won’t just apply to butchers: it will enable restaurants and hotels to check the quality of halal products, says Mossin, who notes an increase in Muslim tourists to Cambodia year on year.
Until now, says Pheara, many of those tourists could either have been eating food that they knew was not halal or that they mistakenly believed was halal.
“When tourists come to Cambodia, they don’t eat halal food because we don’t have standards, or a [common] logo,” he says. “Investors and tourists will come more and more because they believe in high standards. It’s a great advantage to have halal-standard products.”