Over the last few months there has been a nasty food war being waged on the internet over halal certification.
Critics claim the Islamic religious practice is simply a front to fund terrorism, a conspiracy theory to rival the (fictional) Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
As a result, an anti-Muslim Facebook group has been targeting a range of Australian companies, threatening boycotts unless they remove halal certification, which is simply food which has been prepared according to Islamic law and is similar to the Jewish practice of kosher.
The targets have included some of the biggest names in Australian food, including Vegemite, Four n’ Twenty pies, the Byron Bay Cookie Company, Nescafe, Colgate and even the South Australian brewer Coopers, which makes a non-alcoholic halal-certified malt extract.
Last year a South Australian dairy company gave into the pressure and dropped its halal certification, losing a $50,000 contract with a Middle Eastern airline and the anti-halal push has even found favour with some Australian politicians, including Nationals MP George Christensen and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who in February implied the money was going to the Islamic State.
Authorities have found no evidence that any funds in Australia have been misused and existing laws prohibit the funding of illegal organisations.
Halal food is certainly big business, worth around $1.5 trillion annually and it’s a growing export opportunity for Australian producers.
But companies like Mondelez International, which owns the great Australian spread Vegemite and Cadbury, have been copping a fair bit of abuse, and recently decided to act, responding in a deft and classy way under the hashtag #SpreadTheLove.
It’s a product that’s both halal and kosher, and even vegetarian. And now it’s banned snarky comments from its social media sites, announcing on Facebook that:
While we enjoy a bit of banter as much as the next breakfast spread, anyone who insists on posting comments of hate, religious vilification or unwarranted grumpiness will be removed from our social media pages. So, no matter how you spread your Vegemite, remember – we’re just here to #SpreadTheLove.
The company expands on the theme in a media release saying “we’re more of a peace, love and B Vitamins kind of brand” that will still allow people to make comments “on halal and other topics respectfully, but please do so in line with our house rules”.
Vegemite’s plea for a more civil debate was met with claims of censorship by some on Facebook, with one woman claiming the company was “a bit sensitive about being traitors to Australia”. She wrote in capital letters that there was no free speech, but then she also supported the Reclaim Australia rally on the weekend, where organisers demanded the right to free speech and the ability to ban a range of ways Muslim people express themselves.
* This story originally referred to Kraft as the owners of Vegemite, but the company changed its name when it split into two businesses two years ago and is now called Mondelez International, so has been corrected.