The Australian senate is launching an inquiry into food certification and labelling in the wake of concerns over halal certification.
South Australian Liberal senator Cory Bernardi led the push for the six-month inquiry, with a motion to examine food certification schemes and certifiers in Australia passed with government backing today.
The economic references committee inquiry will look at organic, kosher, halal and genetically-modified food and general food safety certification schemes, taking into account certification fees, labelling requirements and whether consumer are able “to make informed purchasing decisions” under the current arrangements.
In recent months, a political war of words over halal certification has broken out, with Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie is threatening a crackdown on halal certification, linking the fees paid to funding terrorism. She threatened a private member’s bill “which closes these legal loopholes that could allow financing of terrorists”, pushing the Abbott government to act.
Nationals MP George Christensen along with Bernardi were pushing for an inquiry into halal certification, leading agriculture minister and Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce to warn his colleagues not to go “picking a fight that we never needed to have”, adding that the livestock industry could lose valuable markets and thousands of meat industry jobs in regional areas would be at risk.
Opposition to halal certification has been growing in the last year, with a social media campaign targeting a number of prominent food brands such as Sanitarium, Four ‘n’ Twenty Pies, Kellogs, Cadbury and even Vegemite.
The criticisms have occasionally been misdirected, with the Jacob’s Creek winery targeted following mistaken rumours that it was “halal”.
The matter is also headed to the NSW Supreme Court with a large Sydney-based halal certifier launching defamation proceedings against one anti-halal group over its claims the money paid for certification was being used to fund terrorism.
Bernardi says the inquiry will “establish the facts” about food certification.
“I keep getting told any number of things about certification schemes and I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true,” he said.
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