Earlier this month, the government said that it had speeded up deliberation on a bill on halal certification that had met with vociferous opposition from businesses, who argued that the new rule would increase costs.
Under the planned law, halal certificates and labels will be required for three sectors: F&B, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. This would apply not only to all ingredients but also the equipment used during production.
The law would also call on a new compliance body, the National Halal Products Certification Agency, to oversee certification under the rules, while a religious body, the Indonesian Ulema Council, would set halal standards.
The bill, which was initiated by lawmakers and not the ruling government, was said to have been introduced to protect the Muslim majority of local consumers from products containing non-halal ingredients, such as pork and alcohol.
Make it voluntary, says food body
Food businesses in Indonesia are against the proposed law, whose mandatory application is backed by religious parties. Their contention is that for this bill to become a law, it must be amended to make halal certification of their products optional, not mandatory, as planned.
In a oral submission to the House of Representatives, Yusuf Hadi, the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Food and Beverage Association, said that lawmakers should not force local businesses to secure halal certificates.
“We remain firm in saying that the new law should not be mandatory for local firms. There is still a group of non-Muslims in the country that accounts for 10 per cent of the total population of 240 million people. We ought to not forget their needs,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf said that the new law, in its present state, would burden small and medium businesses. Local businesses currently spend between US$26 and US$416 per product to obtain halal certificates from the Ulema Council, albeit voluntarily.
A long drawn-out battle
The bill is being deliberated by a group of lawmakers and government ministers under House Commission VIII, which oversees religious affairs, and it is likely that a decision will be made in late October. However, the bill has been under deliberation since 2004.
The bill has political undertones mixed with religious and ideological leanings of the major parties. Groups like the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party are pushing for the new law to be made mandatory for local businesses that wish to sell their products to Muslim consumers.
In contrast, the more liberal and secular Democratic Party insists that the regulation be applied with a voluntary clause.
For now, all eyes are on October 26, when the House Commission VIII is expected to give a ruling on the bill.