Originally published in Pretoria News
A Christian voluntary organisation is taking the government to court over its new regulations allowing for a wide range of food packaging to be religiously certified and to carry religious signs, such as the halaal certification mark, without regulating the labelling.
It is claimed that these regulations exclude certain faiths, such as the Christians, and is thus unconstitutional.
The National Coalition of Christian Groups and Individuals for Practical Equality and Protection of Constitutional Rights (NCCGI) is objecting to the religious labelling, such as the halaal certification mark that signifies that the food can be eaten by Muslims.
This sign appears on a wide range of products, such as meat, drinks, chips, various sweets and biscuits.
The group said it represents various Christian organisations and Christian people in SA, on whose behalf it is launching the court action.
They will ask the Pretoria High Court for a variety of orders, including to declare that the religious certifying of the food, which exclude the Christian faith, is unconstitutional.
The NCCGI will ask that the ministers of Health and Trade and industry be forced to introduce measures that will ensure that when these products carry religious signs on its packaging, similar food products without these signs also be made available to the consumer.
This, however, excludes where the processed food products are exclusive to a particular religious group and originate from their faiths (such as the slaughtering prescriptions in the case of Muslims), where it would, for example, carry the halaal mark.
The NCCGI stated in papers filed at court that Christians do not have any religious signs for placement on foodstuffs and many of the applicant’s members do not favour consumables with religious signs.
The organisation also fears that the consumer will have to foot the bill for these additional markings on packaging. They will ask the court to force the government to introduce measures ensuring that the costs associated by these signs are not directly or indirectly passed on consumers comprising the other religious groups who are excluded on the labelling.
The NCCGI are mainly objecting to the notice in the Government Gazette of March 12 this year, in which the Health Minister gave the go-ahead for these religious signs, without proper regulations in place.
Phillip Groenenstein, of the NCCGI, said in a statement, which forms part of the application, that the religious signs on packaging should be regulated by the government to prevent the discriminatory usage thereof.
He made it clear that this was not an attack on any faith or religion, but stressed that the application, launched by Lombards Attorneys in Pretoria is aimed at ensuring equality between faiths and religions.
He pointed out that these food labels evoke religious emotions based on the religious orientation of the different religious groups in our country.
Groenenstein said a good example was the recent hot cross bun debacle, which carried the halaal mark and caused an outcry among many Christians. Woolworths subsequently announced it would next Easter also offer hot cross buns without the halaal sign.
The South African National Halal Authority (Sanha) has reacted strongly to a court application describing it as short-sighted and “ill-conceived” reports The Voice of the Cape.