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Friday, 21 March 2008

Halal scientific program seen to benefit MSMEs

(Sun.Star, 21/3/08)

MICRO, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) stand to benefit from a government-led science and technology-based halal development program, proponents have assured. Zenaida P. Laidan, director of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Central Mindanao, said the recently launched "Philippine Science and Technology Program for the Development of the Halal Industry" aims to strengthen the competencies of MSMEs to penetrate the global halal market.

"We want to equip with the necessary measures so they can comply with local and international quality standards," noted Laidan, the only Muslim scientist in the Science and Technology department. One of the measures is the establishment of the nation's halal science laboratory, which shall be manned by technically-competent microbiologists, chemists, and engineers who will detect haram contaminants on both food and non-food products.

Halal is an Arabic term meaning permissible or acceptable, while haram is its opposite. The science laboratory, worth at least P50 million, will rise in Koronadal City, the regional seat of government. "The halal science laboratory shall serve as the clearing house of halal products and services for export to Islamic countries," she said. Laidan stressed they would tap ulamas (Islamic scholars) for the religious requirement to complement the scientific initiatives in developing the nation's halal industry with Mindanao as the hub.

The program would also get help from concerned government agencies, such as the Department of Health's Bureau of Food and Drugs (DOH-Bfad) for the safety and health quality assurance; the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for marketing promotion; and the Department of Tourism (DOT) for ecotourism promotion. "There is a dire need for efforts complementation if we want the nation's halal industry to succeed," she stressed. Zulficar Ali H. Panda, a board member of the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, agreed that science and religion in relation to halal products virtually go together. "The Qur'an is not only a religious book revealed to mankind but a book of science and a book of signs as well," Panda said in a presentation delivered at the 6th Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Business Congress last year. "Application of scientific methodology to ensure halal compliance is indeed an Islamic religious requirement," he added.

Laidan said the global halal market value has grown tremendously over the last few years to as high as $600 billion, which provides an opportunity for micro, small and medium enterprises to carve a niche. However, the country has failed to take advantage of this opportunity, with local and foreign industry experts citing the lack of singular national halal guidelines. There are reportedly 50 halal certifiers in the country today, some of whom are jockeying to have their standards adopted as the nation's national halal guidelines.

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