Halal food is taking Europe by storm
The continent also has a host of agencies that certify compliance with dietary requirements.
Halal food is not only a way of life for many of the 50 million Muslims who live in Europe, but it is making headway with the entire population. Halal meat butchers, in particular, have had a reputation for quality in many European countries for generations.
The continent also has a host of agencies that certify compliance with dietary requirements. Ben Ali Salah, founder of Halal Correct Certification in Leiden, Holland, notes: "The market is growing fast because the Muslim population is growing and the need grows more and more on a daily basis."
Iqbal Ahmed Qureshi, Director of the HFCE-Halal Food Council of Europe, an Islamic organisation based in Brussels dedicated to research into food and nutrition, agrees. "Yes, Halal products are becoming increasingly popular in Europe even among the non-Muslims as people become more aware of the health benefits," he says. "I don't know the exact number of Halal foodies in Europe but I think a lot people are aware of the hygiene benefits."
The UAE, Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest export markets for Europe's Halal-certified food products. In the continent, the biggest consumers are France and the UK, according to Qureshi. The HFCE has certified over 400 European food companies.
"France is the biggest with 10 million consumers," says Ben Ali-Salah. "Both Germany and the UK have five million, and Holland together with Belgium has five million," he says.
Endorsements by a sanctioning body means products do not contain banned items such as pork or alcohol and have been produced on machines cleansed according to Islamic law.
"The companies seeking certification are usually well aware of Halal standards," Qureshi says. "We have procedures and if companies fulfil Halal requirements, they get the certificate."
And the number of producers is growing fast. "There is increasing demand for Halal certification among European companies," Qureshi adds. "In order to export to Muslim countries, European producers must have Halal certification according to each of the importing country's standards."
A bewildering array of certification agencies now grant a seal of approval to ingredients, food and cosmetics. Ben Ali-Salah says that there are now about 60 authentication bodies in Europe. He estimates the value of Halal food produced within the EU at about ?32 billion a year.
Qureshi says exports total $20 billion.
Yet dining out in Europe remains a challenge for Muslims. Ali-Salah notes they can only "choose safely from among 120 European restaurants". But restaurants that offer a fusion of Arabic cuisine with elements of Italian, French or German fare could easily qualify as Halal. "A restaurant can work with products from around the world that are of quality and worthy of Halal," he says.
A traditional French or Italian dish can also be Halal, if made with approved ingredients. "I believe all people are very curious to eat traditional foods from all over the world. Maybe that is also a very good reason for companies to produce traditional dishes that also meet Halal standards," Qureshi says.
In Italy, consumption of Halal food is rising at an average of 12 per cent annually, says Sharif Lorenzini, President of the Halal International Authority. "In Italy there are about four million Halal foodies and the number will increase with the improvement of combined certified tourist offers - hotels, restaurants, vacation resorts, etc.," Lorenzini says. "We have granted Halal certification to about 500 Italian companies."
Still the options for Halal foodies are limited in the country. "Italy has just appeared on the global Halal market. Less than one product in 1,000 is Halal certified compared to 20 to 30 per cent in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany and England," he says.
But in Italy a Muslim can taste an outstanding Halal lasagna dish or preeminent Parmigiano-Reggiano with its granular texture that melts in the mouth. All the exquisite Italian recipes can certainly become Halal, says Lorenzini. "It is enough to eliminate the inadmissible substances such as pork meat and use Halal approved ingredients while also avoiding cross-contamination by banned substances."
The Halal International Authority has now developed ad hoc certification modules for Italian culinary arts in collaboration with the ICIF International School of Italian Cuisine.
Europe is also a leading region for Halal nutraceuticals and vaccines, with France a major market for +certified dietary supplements that are derived from Halal food sources to produce minerals, vitamins, herbs, amino acids and botanicals. They are processed in separate manufacturing units to avoid cross contamination.
And as the entire Halal sector becomes increasingly valuable in Europe, a fund was started last month by the Halal Food Authority of the UK to ensure information is accurate. Saqib Mohammed, chief executive of the certification agency, said a "defense fund" has been started to "secure the integrity of Halal generally".
Mainstream producers are now embracing the growing market as it stretches even into chocolates. "In markets where Muslims have increasing purchasing power, Halal-certified products are preferred over uncertified products," said Emil Fazira, senior research analyst at Euromonitor in Singapore.
Mariella Radaelli and Jon Van Housen are editors at the Luminosity Italia news agency in Milan
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