DUBAI - The International Halal Accreditation Forum (IHAF) has a new leader and she wants the Dubai-based body to help facilitate the development of ISO-level halal standards.
Dr Rehab Faraj Al Ameri told Salaam Gateway this vision is one that IHAF will achieve by working closely with its member accreditation bodies as well as stakeholders such as assessors and technical experts.
Al Ameri’s predecessor and IHAF’s first secretary-general, Mohamed Saleh Badri, has left her an organisation ready for growth.
“In less than three years, we were able to have 35 members, most of which are from non-Muslim countries. This is a huge achievement within a limited timeframe, taking into consideration the fragmented nature of the market,” Al Ameri, who is also the director of the National Accreditation System (NAS) at the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA), told Salaam Gateway.
IHAF was established by the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center (DIEDC) and ESMA in 2016 to harmonize accreditation practices in the halal industry. Badri’s, and IHAF’s, goal in the early years was to gather the accreditation bodies of the major countries that supply halal food.
IHAF understood this needed to be done because while halal standards are set by Muslim and Islamic authorities in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, the substantial majority of halal foods come from non-Muslim countries.
Badri made the point in an interview with Salaam Gateway in April 2017 that the exclusion of non-Muslim countries from the halal oversight process is not practical. He said then that IHAF wanted to “attract the big players for halal, and particularly the countries that are producing halal to assure the source of halal products are controlled and verified”.
Today, beyond the core group of members that include accreditation bodies from Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, India and Thailand, newer members are the National Accreditation Body of Indonesia (KAN), the Russian Federal Accreditation Service, the National Accreditation Center (NAC-Turkey), and the National Accreditation Body of Colombia (ONAC).
Badri also installed IHAF as a member of international industry groups. It is peer to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding with both bodies in October 2018 in Singapore.
The organization’s collaboration with IAF and ILAC is a significant milestone as it is expected to open new doors to the global trade movement and ensure the seamless passage of halal products and services among countries.
The challenge now for IHAF, and new leader Al Ameri, is to bring more countries on board (she’s aiming for a 20 percent bump by the end of 2019) and to understand their systems in terms of halal requirements.
Ultimately, IHAF wants international standards for the halal industry rather than separate schemes led by or adopted by certain countries.
“We now have a UAE [scheme for halal products] that has been adopted at GCC level and in February this year it was adopted by Arab countries. IHAF is adopting this scheme. But we want the standards to be international, to be ISO-level halal standards,” said Al Ameri.
“And this is where the challenge comes – to what extent can we come up with a consensus in building a standard globally, specific for the halal industry.”
Working towards its goal of harmonizing accreditation practices for the halal industry, IHAF isn’t looking to “reinvent the wheel”, said Al Ameri, but rather to capitalize on the best practices and expertise of its members.
It has come some way in its first three years and it’s now Al Ameri’s responsibility to continue Badri’s work into the second phase of IHAF’s growth.
“When we started IHAF, we were the ones trying to explain the importance of having a harmonized accreditation process for halal products. But now, the countries are pursuing IHAF to become members,” she said.
“They have trade, growing industries, and halal products from food and beverages to cosmetics and textiles,” she added, underlining that it’s in the best interest of member countries to move towards harmonized accreditation standards for the halal industry.
She pointed out that because of the fragmented halal certification system, manufacturers are forced to obtain certification each time they export to a different market in order to comply with that country’s requirements. This increases costs and makes the process exhausting. There is also the added complication of dealing with private sector halal certifiers that may not be accountable to national- or government-to-government level agreements.
“We want to have one system, one recognition, and one certification for the same product. We need to come up with a common language, so that if you are accredited by an accreditation body in Morocco for example, your goods can pass through America,” said IHAF’s second secretary-general.
“We’re almost there,” she added.
IHAF is now collaborating with member accreditation bodies to establish capacity building programs for the halal industry and to harmonize the way of implementing standards and procedures between halal accreditation bodies around the world.
“There will be mutual recognition between the accreditation bodies,” said Al Ameri.
“This means that if the accreditation body accredits a certifier in a certain country, this certification would be accepted worldwide. This is what we want to achieve.”
NO DUPLICATION WITH MALAYSIA’S IHAB
Malaysia’s new International Halal Authority Board (IHAB) also aims to knock down trade barriers and unify halal standards. However, its focus is on certification bodies - the second layer of the process.
IHAF on the other hand is responsible for harmonizing practices between accreditation bodies.
“Accreditation bodies are the ones that accredit those certification bodies. So there is no duplication at all. Worldwide, there is no organization other than IHAF responsible for organizing and harmonizing [halal] practices between accreditation bodies.”
ASSESSING NOT AUDITING, COMPLIANCE
The new secretary-general noted that the issue of non-compliance persists in many industries, and not only in the halal sector.
“This is where accreditation bodies come in, to ensure the competence, governance, integrity, and impartiality of the process. This process is assessed based on international standards, and whenever there is any deviation from compliance with these standards, the certifier has the chance to improve, rectify and correct.”
She added that most cases of non-compliance occur out of negligence, misunderstandings, or a lack of sufficient or suitable skills and expertise.
“That’s why [it’s important to] have an organization such as IHAF responsible for controlling the framework, which will support and help the certifier to do better,” she said.
“We are not policing; we’re here to help the conformity assessment bodies. That’s why we call it assessment, not auditing. We assess their competencies according to requirements based on international standards.
“Further, assessors are also obliged to many things: they have to ensure impartiality, integrity, confidentiality, and that there is no conflict of interest.”
(Reporting by Heba Hashem; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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