Conservative MPs decry halal cheese handed to Australian soldiers

The halal certification of Bega Cheese has again become a target for detractors, with the Australian Army under fire for handing out meal rations that carry products with Arabic branding.

Bega Cheese's canned cheddar product has been supplied to the Australian Army for use in their soldier ration packs.

Bega Cheese's canned cheddar product has been supplied to the Australian Army for use in their soldier ration packs.

In a national television news report, both conservative senator Corey Bernardi and former Army major Bernard Gaynor decried the inclusion of Bega Cheese in the ration packs, Mr Gaynor saying the halal products “mean more to the enemy than they do to Aussie Diggers”.

The report said of Australia’s 60,000 soldiers, around 200 are Muslims, while two-thirds of the meal rations cater to minority groups, including vegetarian and kosher options in addition to the halal items.

Included in the meal rations is the canned cheddar product produced by Bega for its international export market. Having halal accreditation has allowed the company to sell into those countries and therefore contribute significantly to the local farmers and shareholders throughout the Bega Valley.

Halal certification is a hot button topic in Australia, with tens of thousands of people following boycott groups on social media.

Any mention of Bega Cheese and the company’s products on the Facebook page of the Fairfax newspaper also named for the town in which it’s based inevitably draws a barrage of criticism, bordering on hatred for halal accreditation and the Muslim faith.

Halal accreditation nothing new

Bega Cheese has been halal accredited since 1996.

This has meant the company can export its products to 40 different countries and has helped it become the economic power that it is today.

“The accreditation and label means that Bega Cheese is able to be sold in international markets, many of which have a government requirement to include this labelling,” Bega Cheese CEO Barry Irvin said.

“There would be far less return to the farmer or employment in our region if we simple chose to export bulk commodity cheese for value adding in offshore markets.”

READ MORE: Halal certification ‘misunderstood’ says Bega Cheese, national accrediting body

What does halal mean?

THE word “halal” comes from the Arabic language and means “acceptable” or “permissible”.

Halal Australia CEO Muhammad Khan said when certifying cheese products as halal, they must be free of non-halal enzymes, emulsifiers, flavours and gelatine.

The sources of these must be halal animals or vegetables.

The Islamic Council of Victoria said non-halal products include alcohol, anything from pigs, lard, non-halal animal fat, or foods contaminated with these products.

The council also said when killing animals for food the slaughterer must be a Muslim, must say the name of God before making the cut, and must cut the animal’s throat in one continuous motion with a sharp knife.

There are a number of organisations that provide third-party halal certification, and food businesses are free to seek a commercial arrangement with those organisations.

“Animals and food produced in Australia for the halal market have to operate under and comply with food safety and animal welfare laws, the same as any product,” a NSW Food Authority spokesperson said.

“In NSW, animals processed under halal requirements are stunned prior to slaughter using methods that comply with Australian standards.”