Upcoming Olympics spurring wave of halal, ASC certifications in Asia

Published on
May 10, 2019

At the Foodex trade show held at Makuhari Messe, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, in March, several companies displayed the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logo, as well as logos certifying that their products are “halal,” meaning permissible for Muslims to eat.

Taiwanese companies were most notable for the ASC certification. Lucky Holder, based in Neipu Township, Pingtun County, Taiwan, displayed the ASC logo, and additionally the halal logo. The company produces eel, barramundi, sea bass, and grouper. Changzhi Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan-based Fongyu Co. Ltd. also touted its ASC and halal certifications at the show.

Joyce Wang of Fongyu Co., a maker of formed fish balls, said the company’s tilapia products are ASC-certified, and that ASC certification of its barramundi products is in the works. The ASC branding has helped the company grow its exports to Germany, which Wang said has “high awareness of sustainability. “

“We think ASC sales are more stable, more constant,” she told SeafoodSource.

Taiwan’s government has been promoting the benefits of certification to its exporters, with an emphasis on Global G.A.P., Best Aquaculture Practices, SQF, and ISO. Wang said Fongyu decided to pursue ASC chain of custody certification because of its familiarity in Europe, but said the certification was a challenge one for fish farmers to achieve.

A representative of a Taiwanese company with ASC certification, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, told SeafoodSource there are many barriers to bringing the farmers up to the requirements mandated by the ASC.

“We can’t say the farmers are less educated, but they may be less familiar with these systems, so we have to support them, and the government has to support them, set up teams to teach them how to keep records,” the representative said. “Some don’t know how to use a computer.”

Despite the challenges, the push will continue for additional uptake of ASC certification in Japan due to the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games, taking place in Tokyo. The Tokyo Olympics Committee has made a commitment to sustainable sourcing of seafood served at the Games, and ASC certification enables companies to sell their seafood at the games, which is not only a lucrative proposition in itself, but also opens up a high-profile branding opportunity.

The Olympics are also creating a larger niche for halal-certified products. Japan is also expecting a significant number of visitors from Malaysia and Indonesia for the Games, because the Japanese government allows visa-free entry. In addition, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) has been pushing halal certification to allow expanded exports to Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2017, the number of halal-certified restaurants surpassed 100, according to the Tourism Bureau. The bureau has set a target of doubling that number by 2020.

Osaka, Japan-based Ishikawa Kaisha Ltd. was another company displaying halal products at Foodex. The company contracts with 10 Vietnamese processors, as well as a few in Taiwan, importing seafood products and selling to the hotel, restaurant, and institution trade in Japan. 

Ishikawa Kaisha President Yoshihiro Ishikawa said that grocery stores and supermarkets are not making any special preparations for the Games, but hotels are concerned.

“In one shot, they can get big money. A tour company will contact them and ask, ‘Can you prepare a halal menu?’ If ‘Yes,’ they can get a big booking, if ‘No,’ they have no chance,” he said.

While in the case of beef, halal requires a ritual slaughter method, for seafood the concerns are mainly avoiding pork and alcohol. Pork offal is sometimes included as a protein source for fish feeds and must be avoided for halal foods.

A representative from Mie Prefecture-based Azuma Foods, another Japanese company offering halal seafood, said that alcohol is a common ingredient in cleaning solvents used to disinfect food preparation surfaces and equipment, so an alternative must be used. Azuma acquired a halal certification for exports to Malaysia and for the Olympics, in advance of expected demand from inbound Southeast Asian Muslims. 

There are various Islamic organizations offering halal certification, and the different organizations may either recognize or not recognize each other’s certifications depending on whether they have an agreement to do so. Several representatives of Japanese companies told SeafoodSource they prioritize certifications that are recognized by Malaysian customers.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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