We take food authenticity pretty much for granted in New Zealand. Some of our trading partners don’t – and they really appreciate it when food imported from this country comes with robust traceability and authentication processes.
Of course the importance of authentication depends on what you care about. New Zealanders eat mostly food produced in our own well-regulated industries. Branding and information labelling are to a high standard, and that enables plenty of individual discernment about ingredients, health impacts and so on.
Food safety issues, like that last month with bagged vegetables in a big grocery chain, are certain to quickly become public knowledge when they occur. Generally we assume, rightly, that foods are exactly what they are presented as being.
In Malaysia, food authentication is far more complicated especially for that country’s 21 million Muslim people. Many care deeply about whether their food is Halal, or allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. They know, for example, to avoid pork and products made with animal blood. When it comes to permitted meats, these must be Halal – slaughtered in a certain way and in the name of Allah. That can become tricky when slaughter occurs in a distant land like New Zealand.
For more than 30 years, this country’s meat industry has operated with Halal-certified plants to support our export trade with predominantly-Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia. Our systems for this have worked remarkably well.
Today, however, Halal authenticity is increasingly in doubt in many Muslim countries. Malaysia is a great case in point among our trading partners: Millions of its consumers are increasingly wary of counterfeit Halal products, not least among the foods that are produced or processed within their own borders.
The Malaysia government has responded with a bold initiative to establish an economy-wide repository of digital information on Halal products. Its Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) has (wisely) turned to GS1 data formats and GS1 technology for synchronisation of relevant data between trading partners. This “data pool” will enable the supply chain transparency and traceability that are necessary for systematic authentication of Halal products on offer to Malaysian consumers, either locally produced or imported.
It is up to food producers, processors and distributors to be registered with the HDC and submit their product data. Halal authentication is the main driver but data synchronisation of this form will have other efficiency benefits in Malaysia’s supply chain. GS1 Malaysia is an effective player in that economy and many of the companies coming into the HDC system are already GS1 members.
Happily so are many of the New Zealand companies who supply into Malaysia, including Halal-certified meat processors. (Food and beverages make up more than three quarters of all New Zealand exports to Malaysia which totaled $887 million last year. Malaysia is our eighth largest bilateral trading partner).
This is very much the context in which ANZCO Foods in concert with GS1 organisations here and in Malaysia trialed the use of RFID technology on a shipment of Halal meat products to Kuala Lumpur (KL) mid this year. The products were certified at processing, and subject to track and trace using EPC/RFID tags, readers and databases between the processing plant (at Kokiri near Hokitika) and the KL cool store. The trial outcome has conclusive on traceability and authenticity into this important Halal food marketplace.
The trial was of perfect relevance and timing for what are, in fact, critical developments in Malaysia. Its government is setting out explicitly to make Malaysia a world leader and global reference centre in Halal knowledge and Halal-related services, for both investors and consumers. The HDC data pool is a key part of this strategy – and the data that accompanied ANZCO Food’s EPC/RFID-tagged products would plug straight into it (all the more easily thanks to GS1 Standards!)
Halal is not exactly a major concern for most New Zealanders when we go to the supermarket. But the world has 1.6 million Muslims and most are believed to consume or prefer to consume Halal products when possible. We make our living by producing foods for many of these people. It makes great sense for us to produce to their preferences: It makes great sense, too, that we would meet their data and traceability needs for Halal authentication.