Consumer consciousness and the fall and rise in the demand for halal meat in Manila
When Mohammad Shafi first came to Manila from Karachi of Pakistan in 1986, the capital city of Philippines didn’t have that many Muslims. The Muslims in the country mostly lived in the southern island of Mindanao, but Shafi, a carpenter by profession, opted to settle in the capital, located in the northern island of Luzon.
The Muslim neighbourhood of Tandang Sora district had around 4,000 Muslims at that time. Shafi opened up his roof carpenter service business there. As a practicing Muslim, he soon faced the problem of finding halal meat.
For Muslim people, halal meat is something that adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Quran. The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe. Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass.
Failing to find such meat here, Mohammad Shafi thought of starting his own halal meat business. He found that there was a growing demand in the neighbourhood for halal meat. Meanwhile his business of providing roof carpenter services was not doing well because of the concrete construction boom of the 90s and it aided him to take the decision of opening up a halal meat shop.
He opened the shop and started selling halal meat.
“It was not an easy task of course because I needed to do all the things by myself. I needed to buy the cattle, slaughter those and then skinned the animal and finally chopped the meat for selling,” said Shafi.
Prior to starting the meat shop, Shafi had some experience in performing the work of a butcher, as he used to help his father prepare meat during the Eid-ul-Azha in Pakistan, when Muslims across the world slaughter cattle as an act of sacrifice.
“But slaughtering cattle and selling meat commercially were a whole different ball game. My eldest son used to help me. I used to slaughter cows thrice a week at the slaughterhouse in my home’s backyard and sell the cow meat in my shop thrice a week. The chicken meat however was available every day and I used to slaughter the chicken on a daily basis depending on the demand.”
He said that the business was good as most people bought meat from his shop. But it changed at the beginning of the new millennium. “The poultry business started picking up in the Philippines in the late 2000s and the price of meat had significantly gone down during those times. The demand for my meat went down because it was relatively more expensive than those.”
Shafi said that he couldn’t compete with the poultry or other meat sellers in price because he needed to process the meat from scratch and thus needed to put a higher price on those meats to sustain his business.
About two or three years ago Shafi stopped selling halal meat as he couldn’t sustain it anymore.
“There are very few customers. Most of the Muslims in the neighbourhood actually don’t care whether the meat is halal or not. As long as they don’t eat pork meat, they consider the other meat to be halal.”
Also, the supply of all sorts of meat in the superstores and in the kitchen market from the large farms have increased. Shafi simply couldn’t retain enough customers to keep his business.
Isqandar Panagwa, a resident of Tandang Sora said that he still prefers buying halal meat even with a heftier price tag. “The problem is most of the 13,000 Muslim people here in Tandang Sora buy meat from the supermarket. They don’t care much about whether the meat is halal or not.”
Rafan Ferdous, another resident of Tandang Sora however disagrees with Arafat. He said that the Muslim of Tandang Sora are now becoming increasingly conscious about consuming halal meat. “There are many residents here who go to Muslim neighbourhood in Quiapo to buy halal meat.”
Things are a bit different in the Muslim neighborhood of Quiapo district of Manila. While 12,000 of its Muslim residents are quite similar to that of Tandang Sora, the Muslims in Quiapo consume halal meat because of easier availability from two shops that sell halal meat on a regular basis.
The largest mosque of Luzon-the Golden Mosque is also located inside the Muslim neighbourhood of Quiapo. People there are more aware about the significance of having halal meat.
Asnawi Ampatua owns a restaurant called Wakilah inside the Muslim neighbourhood of Quiapo and she said that on an average day, she buys 10-15 kilos of chicken meat and 10-15 kilos of beef for the restaurant.
“I buy beef from Iqbal Halal Meat, the only shop here which sells halal meat and I buy chicken meat from Al Zaky meat shop here. The prices are very reasonable and almost the same as we find in the superstores.”
Abu Khalid, the owner of Iqbal Meat Shop said that halal meat has very good demand in the area. “It’s a neighbourhood of around 12,000 people. So there is no shortage of customers here.”
Khalid said that he has been running his business for six years. His son Iqbal Khalid aids him in running the business. “Every day we sell around 40-60 kilos of cow meat. We also sell goat meat on different occasions.”
Meanwhile, Salimah D Saduugar Pumbaya, marketing head of Al Zaky chicken shop said that their meat is 100 percent halal. “I don’t know about other shops but I can guarantee you that our meat are processed maintaining all the Shariah rules in Islam.”
She said that Muslim consumers here in the neighbourhood want to be assured that the food and beverages they are consuming fully comply with Islamic preparation requirements. Since this market has grown more sophisticated, the producers are required to confirm that all ingredients in their food products are fully certified.
Philippines does not have a government agency that has control of giving halal certifications. This was after the Supreme Court in 2003 nullified a law that gave the Office on Muslim Affairs (now the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos or NCMF) the power to regulate products acceptable to Muslims.
Therefore, presently certifying products as halal is done by Islamic non-governmental organizations. The meat sold at Al Zaky are being halal certified by the authorities of Islamic Dawah Council of Philippines (IDCP).
Salimah said that to get that certification, they had to ensure that the halal process is being maintained from chicken feed to slaughtering process. “Our chickens are different because of the specialized corn based and chemical free feeds which bring natural sweetness and succulent taste to its meat. And most importantly it is halal. Halal meat has several health benefits and because of that our brand has gained popularity even among the non-Muslims.”
The price of Al Zaky chicken is slightly pricier with 160-190 piso per kilos while other chicken meat costs 120-150 piso per kilos (One Philippine piso equals Tk1.60). “We charge more because we maintain a certain standard in feeding our poultry. Besides, our meat processing cost is a bit higher as we rigorously follow the Islamic ritual in slaughtering the chicken.”
Alliance for Halal Integrity in the Philippines (AHIP) president Alejandro Deron said that with the Halal industry in the global market already nearing to $3 trillion, development of the industry in Philippines can help improve the country’s economy.
He however said that unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, the Philippines does not have a government agency that has control of giving halal certification. He said that regulating products, especially food, to meet the Islamic standards, goes beyond testing the presence of pork substance in samples. Certifiers also need to detect acceptable level of alcohol and blood in the products – all requiring stringent laboratory processes.
“This thing is changing fast though, as the Philippine Halal Export Development Board (PHEDB) is fast-tracking the formulation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the country’s halal law.”
Republic Act No 10817, otherwise known as the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Act, which aims to “develop and promote halal industries as a mode of achieving equity and justice” among local farmers and producers, was enacted in May 2016.
“After the implementation of the Act, we expect to see emergence of more halal certified meat,” he said.
Faisal Mahmud is a Dhaka based journalist. He visited Manila as an ACFJ fellow.