Agriculture minister says halal certification essential for export markets and warns failing to get it could triple the price of beef for Australian consumers
The agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, has issued a warning to colleagues who are against halal certification, saying picking a fight with Islamic export countries could triple the price of beef for Australian consumers.
A number of Coalition MPs and senators have expressed concern about halal certification, claiming that money for the process goes to extremist clerics.
Joyce said failing to get halal certification would effectively cut off large export markets for Australian meat products, and warned against “picking a fight that we never needed to have”.
“Unless it’s halal certified, we can’t sell it. That means the whole processing line becomes unviable,” Joyce told reporters on Monday. “If we didn’t have the halal market in beef, that could really affect thousands of meat workers in Australia.
“You want to be careful before putting all their jobs on the line by saying that we’re not going to participate in this range of markets.”
He said the lack of competition for markets could drive up the price of beef.
“We don’t want any unnecessary heat brought into this space because the only people who lose out in the end are us,” Joyce said.
A Coalition backbencher, Andrew Laming, wants a voluntary code of conduct on domestic halal and kosher-labelled food so that businesses can bypass the certification process and consumers can have more information about labelling.
“We’re providing more options for businesses and customers,” he said.
He has previously expressed concern that the money that goes to mosques for halal certification is untaxed and hard to trace.
Laming agreed with Joyce that halal certification was “essential” for export markets and “shouldn’t be impeded” by the “minority campaign” against it.
Last month the prime minister, Tony Abbott, brushed aside concerns about halal certification.
“If we want to export to the Middle East, we have to have certain procedures in place … If we want our exports to grow all the time, this is what we need to do and I think that’s what Australians want,” he said during a visit to a halal-certified business in Tasmania.
The federal government has no formal role in the domestic labelling of halal food. The voluntary labelling is done entirely by third parties. But the government does approve certification for halal products exported to countries such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia through the Department of Agriculture.
Several high-profile food companies such as Cadbury and Kellogg’s have been targeted by anti-halal campaigners in the past few months.