Bunfight over food labelling

Originally published in IOLnews

A Christian group that wants religious certification and signs on food packaging to be banned, faces an uphill battle against Muslims, Jews, Hindus and millions of members of Christian churches who are opposing the application in the Pretoria High Court.

The National Association and Coalition of Christian Groups and Individuals for Practical Equality and Protection of Constitutional Rights filed papers asking that the court declare that the religious certification of food, which excluded the Christian faith, was unconstitutional.

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The group objects to the fact that a wide range of food products is 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.

Philip Groenstein, a member of the group in Pretoria who brought the application, says the main religious group in South Africa are Christians, with 80 percent. Muslims make up less than 2 percent, and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists make up the rest.

He contends that it is unfair that the majority of people in the country should bear the brunt of costs imposed when food is religiously certified.

“The RSA public is mostly uninformed that more than 98 percent of (consumers) pay for about all the Muslim certification costs… and that they effectively finance Muslim activities and spreading of their influence in this respect.”

Rafiek Mohamed, secretary-general of the United Ulama Council of SA, which has been admitted as an intervening party, said none of the religious certifying bodies in South Africa imposed their certifying process on suppliers. It was in fact the suppliers who voluntarily approached the bodies, because this brought value to their products.

“People who disapprove of the religious signs can simply abstain from purchasing such a product,” he said.

“The real nature of the (application) is based on religious rivalry, jealousy and defeatist resentment. Such antagonism should not be dressed up as a legal issue… This case demonstrates the urgent and compelling need for religious tolerance.”

Darren Sevitz, chief excutive of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of SA (UOS), denied that religious certification of foodstuffs had any significant effect on the price paid by consumers. The UOS is the second intervening party.

Sevitz approached several manufacturers regarding their policies and found that the cost of religious certification was not passed to consumers.

Kraft Foods SA and Africa Spice Limited have both deposed affidavits, saying religious certification of their products is paid for out of separate budgets.

Meanwhile, several churches have distanced themselves from the application.

Pastor Ray McCauley, on behalf of Rhema Church, Rhema Family churches and the International Federation of Christian Churches, with a combined membership of two-and-a-half million members, also deposed an affidavit in support of the intervening parties.

“The church and its members do not have any objection to the certification of food products.

“We do not regard the certification of food products as any infringement of religious rights and do not see any need for the relief sought by the applicant.”

In another affidavit, Landile Shembe, of the Shembe Church, which has five million members, concurred.

Professor Billy Gundelfinger, acting on behalf of the UOS, said that although he could not comment on the case, something positive had emerged, in that Muslims, Hindus and Jews were supporting each other in a common cause.

“Notwithstanding the fact that a Christian group had launched the application against them, other Christian churches, whose combined membership exceeded 10 million, were supporting the Muslims, Jews and Hindus in opposing the application.

“The Muslim and Jewish communities, often perceived as being antagonistic towards one another, were standing shoulder to shoulder in defence of their religious rights,” Gundelfinger said.

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  1. Must Muslims, that comprise less than 2% of SA’s population, profit from everything that Christian consume – in order to propagate anti-Christian doctrine?

  2. Someone, recently pointed out the following:
    “- I think it is absolutely shocking that Woolworths is even allowing Hot Cross buns with the Muslim Halaal emblem on.
    – As a Christian I will stand up for what is right and I will not purchase any hot cross buns with the Muslim Halaal emblem on them and that has been prayed over by a Muslim.
    – The Irony is that Muslims don’t believe Jesus died on the cross but was rescued by Allah (Surah 4:157). And yet they want their Halaal symbol on a food item that has association to the atoning death of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, (Gal. 2:20-21).”

  3. I doubt the 10 million members are aware or even understand what their church leaders feel or are doing. I cannot compromise my faith and am uncomfortable about Muslim certification as I know their god is not my God. I am not however sure if God himself would want me to make a stand on this but personally feel against the certification of 98% of our food. Can Uncle Angus not advise on this? I would love to know his views. I must emphasise though that I will not compromise my faith to suit the politically correct religious society of today. Johan, well written.

  4. I fully agree with comments by Julian, Johan & Stuart lamenting
    the way we Christians are so unconcerned in upholding our
    Christian principles.

    On 26th August 2010 I e-mailed the chairman of Woolworths
    S N Susman & managing director I Moir complaining about a
    halaal endorsement on “Woolworths extra spicy hot cross buns”,
    which to Christians. reminds us of the death of Jesus Christ on
    the Cross of Calvary over 2000 years ago, long before islam
    was conceived.

    This e-mail evoked a reply from a Consumer Help-line consultant,
    Zukiswa who replied suggesting I write to the Customer Service
    Department. Chantal James of this section acknowledged my
    complaint on 27th August informing me that “our foods department”
    would respond giving accurate feedback.
    My reply to Chantal James on the same day, 27th August, I
    expressed that my concern was one of principle, & that the matter
    was one for the directors of Woolworths to deal with.

    On 9th September 2010 Zelda Neumann of the Customer Care
    Department wrote back, quoting reference number 20100830-
    145773052, correspondence CL 126957 to the effect that “the
    company worked hard to provide customers with information
    that enables them to make informed choices about the food they
    consume. Where products are certified halaal, the logo of the
    halaal certifier will appear on the product label or packaging,
    as the customer’s guarantee.”

    To date no further message, let alone action on removing the
    offensive logo has occurred.

  5. When we Christians start court battles, we are not spreading the Gospel the way Jesus would.