Uttar Pradesh, the most heavily populated of India’s states, banned Saturday the sale and distribution of certain “Halal-certified” food products, including bakery supplies, sugar, and oil. Halal is the Muslim term for religiously approved foods.
“Halal certification of food products is a parallel system which creates confusion regarding the quality of food items,” the Uttar Pradesh state government said on Saturday, insisting that only India’s national Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) should be able to set standards for food items.
“Strict legal measures will be implemented against any individual or firm engaged in the production, storage, distribution, buying, and selling of Halal-certified medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics within Uttar Pradesh,” the state government order said.
The ban exempts products created for export, noting that some such goods are shipped to Muslim countries that require imported food to meet halal requirements.
Uttar Pradesh made its regulatory move after police complaints were filed against several companies for “exploiting people’s religious sentiments” to peddle food using “forged” halal certifications. The state government said these efforts to sell halal food created “social animosity” and “violated public trust.”
“Earlier, halal certification was only confined to meat products. But today all types of products like oil, sugar, toothpaste and spices are being issued halal certificates,” Uttar Pradesh Food Safety and Drug Administration commissioner Antia Singh said, arguing that the expansion of halal certification made the new regulations necessary.
“Religion should not be brought into food. There were many items such as garments, sugar, etc. which were being branded as Halal, which is against the law,” added a spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh branch of Bharatiya Janata (BJP), India’s ruling party.
Critics of the ban said it was nothing but an effort to bring religion into food, accusing the Hindu-nationalist BJP party of discriminating against Muslims by making it more difficult for them to follow Islamic dietary laws. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, is known as an outspoken Hindu nationalist.
The Times of India (TOI) quoted some language in the anti-halal regulation that was reminiscent of Yogi Adityanath’s rhetoric, including an accusation that “anti-national elements” were using halal certifications in a “pre-planned strategy to sow class hatred, create divisions in society, and weaken the country.”
“Unrestrained propaganda is being disseminated within a particular section of society to discourage the use of products lacking a halal certificate,” the Uttar Pradesh government charged.