|Legal spat over religious signs on food labels|
|Thursday, 02 August 2012|
Muslim and Jewish organisations have said they will oppose an application by a Christian group in which it is challenging the government’s regulations allowing a wide range of food packaging to be religiously certified and to carry religious signs.
The "National Association and Coalition of Christian Groups and Individuals for Practical Equality and Protection of Constitutional Rights" has filed papers with the Pretoria High Court, asking that the court declare that the religious certification of food, which excluded the Christian faith, was unconstitutional.
The group objects to the fact that a wide range of food products are religiously labelled, such as those carrying the Halaal, Hindu or Jewish signs, indicating the product is suitable for consumption by these groups. It says there should be alternative products available without these labels.
The coalition launched the application against the ministers of health and trade and industry, and the National Consumer Tribunal.
The United Ulama Council of SA, which represents a number of Halaal certifying bodies, indicated it would join the legal proceedings to oppose the coalition’s application.
The Jewish community, represented by a Joburg attorney, also indicated that it was launching an application to be joined, said M Lombaard, of Lombaard Attorneys, who is representing the coalition.
The United Ulama Council of SA said it was entering the legal battle because Halaal certification directly affected the Muslim consumer.
Rafiek Mohamed, a Muslim theologian, said in court papers that Muslims, Hindus and Jews had particular dietary laws. Since they required guidance on which food items were suitable for them a certification system had developed over the years.
None of the certifying bodies imposed their certifying process on suppliers. The application was premised on the untrue notion that these religious communities “forced” their values on other communities.
People who disapproved of the religious signs “can simply abstain from purchasing such a product”.
Mohamed said there were many products without such labelling. But Lombaard said there were few alternative products, and that about 90 percent of the meat industry was Halaal.
The applicant is asking for a list of alternative products. The dairy and dried fruit industry will be asked for such a list, as well as the abattoirs in Gauteng which do not slaughter in terms of specific religious rules.
According to Statistics SA, of SA's population as of July 2010 was 49,991-m. The religious breakdown is as follows, based on the 2001 census: Protestant 36.6% (Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%), Catholic 7.1%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1%.
According to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish population of SA is 0.2% of the total population of almost 50 million.