Hanen Rezgui Pizette struggling for Muslim consumers rights: Exclusive interview INTERVIEWS
An exclusive interview with Hanen Rezgui Pizette
President: ASIDCOM, France
A valiant advocate of Muslim consumers right
(Paris-NewsHalal, Rabi`I 21, 1437, January1, 2016)
The International role of Muslim consumers associations or organizations has become essential to protect around 1.6 Billion Muslim consumers from non-Halal, unhealthy, unclean and doubt full foods, beverages, ingredients, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Muslim consumers need to be more aware about their rights to know the Halal status of products and services they are buying, consuming or receiving.
Ms. Hanen Rezgui Pizette, based in Paris, France is a valiant and a symbolic Muslim woman fighting for Muslim consumers rights and extending updated information through studies to Muslim consumers, industries and market players to make them understand the essential requirements of Halal.
Ms. Hanen started working as a volunteer, in 2007, with Paris and Lille based Muslim consumers` association ASIDCOM, the Association of Awareness, Information and Defense of Muslim Consumers.
She played a key role in its development. She contributed to the most of its activities including publishing articles and scientific studies. The most important study was "The benefits of the religious slaughter for humans and animals" that was published by the French Agriculture Ministry on one of its official website. The study was translated into the English language.
She also published in 2012 within ASIDCOM's Work an exhibition titled as "Muslim Consumption and Halal Challenges", and a Muslim consumer survey report; "The Muslim Consumer as a Key of the Halal Market".
She has contributed in many forums and conferences such as “the First Gulf Conference for Halal Industry and Services” and "the Halal Workshop, held in Kuwait, “The annual conference of French Muslims in Paris” (Le Bourget) in 2011, and in Malaysia "The World Halal Forum" in 2012.
She represented in two other conferences "The Muslim consumer rights & the European consumer regulation" and "The European Halal industry & the Improvement of the Muslim Minority Economic State" during the European Council for Fatwa and Research meeting on June 24-29, 2013 in Bosni.
She has represented ASIDCOM in the frameworks of the European Halal Standards held in Paris and Brussels. She is currently President of the Association and is working in order to develop strategies for action to ensure consumer rights recognized in various fields. On the other hand, she is currently preparing her official graduation in "law and theology" with "The European Institute for Human Sciences in Paris”. She masters in Arabic, French and English languages.
NewsHalal: Please tell us about yourself and also about what is ASIDCOM?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: ASIDCOM is an association governed by French law 1901. It is the association of awareness, information and defense of Muslim consumers. It aims to:
Promote and develop individual and collective actions of Muslim consumers to ensure the recognition and respect of their rights in all spheres of social life, including food, education, health, the economy, work, culture and leisure...
Defending in all places and at all proceedings with respect to the material and moral interests of Muslim consumers.
Information and awareness by publishing, media campaigns and by providing the means of training and education required.
Legal and Administrative Assistance in all requirements, necessary for life in society.
To achieve its aims, ASIDCOM observes four principals:
No to conflict of interest
NewsHalal: How and when you became interested in Halal?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: As a Muslim consumer, I have sought to verify the legality of my food and drink, after my arrival in France in 1997. So I had purchased meat in Muslim Butcheries and in supermarket, if the name of a mosque is quoted on the products. It is only in 2007 that I discovered that such meat is from stunned animals that may be slaughtered by a non-Muslim. I have also noted difficulties met by Muslims to celebrate the sacrifice of Eid Al-Adha. Then I learned about the precarious religious slaughter status, that is allowed only as exemption from the obligation to stun animals because of supposed animal welfare reasons.
Thus, I join ASIDCOM and write its first report “Benefits of religious slaughter without stunning for animals and humans”. The French Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fishing has published this ASIDCOM’s Bibliographical Report on Religious Slaughter and the Welfare of Animals, as a contribution within the framework of a meeting on animals and society organized in the first half of the year 2008.
NewsHalal: What is the current situation of Halal in France?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: The government policy towards the halal matter has led, among other things, to the creation of multiple halal control bodiess, since 70s. The represented mosques or associations registered and sometimes not-registered. Their mission was initially to serve Muslims, mostly locally. But some have become national or even international. Some were based on volunteer certification at the start, but the situation evolved into a paid service for slaughterhouses and Muslim butchers. The industry meanwhile seems happy with this situation, which leaves them free to contract with the certifying body of their choice for more favorable negotiated amounts and standards. This puts an onus on the consumer to understand the differences between agencies.
The competition between these self-proclaimed certification bodies and between the three approved mosques subsequently gave rise to a multitude of private certification standards, owned by different bodies. None of these standards were promulgated in such a way as to respect Islamic consultative rules that might inspire the Muslim citizens of France to trust these standards. Yet they have become enforceable through the courts and through State services to Muslim consumers. They also serve as an excuse for the inaction of the State to suppress deception with respect to halal products.
Moreover, several Muslim butchers, like most halal stakeholders, continue paradoxically to benefit from the fuzziness that exists within the halal market, where consumers are not clear what standard is being used. They benefit from enjoying the confidence of Muslim consumers compared to supermarkets. Yet, most are, in fact, unconcerned about the halal guarantee that they give either directly or by implication to their Muslim customers. They easily trust their suppliers and minimize their visits to slaughterhouses and manufacturing sites despite the absence of halal production control procedures. Most say that no stunning is used by their suppliers without having any physical evidence (e.g., a control scheme or regular, or even occasional, visits to production sites). They know little about the processed products they sell. They have no training to be butchers or food handlers. They don’t know their rights and Muslim consumers’ rights to respect of their religious freedom. They also don’t muster regulation and legislation related to their role.
NewsHalal: Is there any role of French government in the Halal sector? What kinds of hurdles Muslims are facing in France in related to Halal?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: It is the Minister of the Interior who accepts or refuses requests for religious organizations to be approved to empower Muslim religious slaughterers. These powers were conferred upon the Ministry by regulatory provisions that have existed since 1970, primarily motivated by the need in 1971 for mandated health inspections of meat, and then further confirmed because of the concerns for animal protection in 1980.
One can distinguish three regulatory and enforcement stages undertaken by the State since 1964 to direct the organization of the Muslim community in terms of halal meat products. First, for 24 years Muslim slaughterers were subjected to direct administrative authorization by the State. The end of this first stage was marked by the State’s approval for only three mosques to have the right to empower Muslim religious slaughterers. The policy choices, conditions, and consequences of such approvals are detailed in the ASIDCOM’s book “The Republic and Halal: The History of Muslim Religious Slaughter of Animals in France”. Similarly, the State involvement with the inherently religious question of what is halal will also manifest itself in other ways. The mistakes made by the three mosques chosen by the State and the administration’s policies’ consequences serve as a potential basis for phasing out the rights of the Muslim community to continue to undertake religious slaughter.
NewsHalal: What is the role of ASIDCOM in promoting Halal awareness and addressing consumer concerns?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: ASIDCOM conducts research and provides consumer and economic actors free consultation documents on its website: www.asidcom.org. It regularly participates in the work of various governmental and NGO organizations such as AFNOR (French Association of Standardization), CEN (European Committee for Standardization), Halal charter of CFCM (French Council of Muslim Worship), GWHIS (Gulf Workshop on Halal Industry and its Services) and general and Muslim events such as the World Halal Forum, RAMF (Muslim Annual Meeting in France), GCHIS (Gulf Conference on Halal Industry and its Services) that address, among other issues, good practices for the religious slaughter of animals and halal standardization matter.
Also ASIDCOM advocate Muslim consumers’ interests and rights in court. Currently two procedures Court are considered by the Council of State.
NewsHalal: What is the most serious problem in French Halal sector? How the Muslim businessmen or the community dealing with the issues such as Halal Standards, Halal Certification or non-Muslims interference in Halal?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: The most serious problem in French Halal sector is the paradoxical behavior of our governments towards the Halal issue. On one hand they regularly reject the requests of Muslim consumer associations’ to control halal meat traceability. While in the other hand, they interfere with the halal market by approving non-representative Muslim organizations/mosques, publishing illegal regulations (subject of an ASIDCOM’s Court procedure), and financing/supporting projects to standard halal by secular organizations.
NewsHalal: What is the most prominent Halal business in France? How you are dealing with issues such as stunning or mechanical slaughtering?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: About 80% of halal meat is sold by Muslim butcheries. ASIDCOM conducted a survey in the North of France about this main stakeholder of the local halal market. Also, most halal restaurants, mainly fast food, are run by Muslims. But during the last decade, supermarkets and big companies of restaurants such as Quick have been entering to the local halal market. Yet, these new halal stakeholders struggle to win Muslim consumers trust, even if they certify their products by HCBs and VERITAS (non-Muslim Halal Controler!).
NewsHalal: While there are so many Halal Standards such as GCC Halal Standards, JAKIM Halal Standards, MUI, Indonesia Halal Standards, UAE Halal Standards and OIC-SMIIC Halal Standards? Which one is most popular in France? Is the difference of Halal Standards confusing French Muslim consumers or Halal Industry?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: French Muslim consumers care of no standard among all these foreign standards. Most consumers trust their Muslim Butchers and/or Muslim recognized HCBs.
Most French Muslims are from North Africa and they have clear vision about what is Halal. But lack of transparency confuses them whether the products are complying with their halal definition. French Muslim consumers don’t need to be taught what is Halal. But they need to be clearly informed about the traceability and ingredients of products.
NewsHalal: Many different Halal Standards confusing to Halal Foods, Beverages, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetics and meat industries as well as consumers. What is the solution? Is there any possibility that Islamic Ummah can introduce a complete, concrete and collective Halal Standards?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: The harmonization of Halal Standards is requested by the industry and exporter countries. Their aim is to adjust Halal requirements to the conventional industrial equipment. But to respect and protect the big diversity of the Muslim communities, we should not impose them a single collective halal standard. Each country should address locally this matter with the Muslim minority. Then in the respect of their religious beliefs, it could establish a halal standard to ensure their right to consume halal and practice the religious rites, So that, the recognized standard by domestic Muslims can be suggested in the frame of export, if the importer country doesn’t require specific standards. Also, harmonization can be reached by mutual recognition of standards between countries and Muslim communities, if feasible.
The will of introducing a single standard has already shown its limit (OIC-SMIIC and CEN experiences). There is really a need to respect Muslim communities’ autonomy in order to encounter hurdles to harmonize practices on the halal market. Religious representatives and Muslim stakeholders in non-Muslim countries have a key role to be played.
NewsHalal: Being a Muslim and a minority in France, how do you deal with the issues of Halal and children`s education?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: Actually, the practices and behaviors of parents are in general the best mean to show to children the Muslim duty to consume Halal. But, Being a Muslim and a minority in France, more explanation is needed since the youngest age. In fact, differences with others must clearly be understood, in such way that helps children to tolerate differences and to have self-confidence.
NewsHalal: Is there any Halal testing laboratory in France? If possible please give some details.
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: There is a new Halal testing laboratory in Paris. It is the halaltest laboratory that is managed by Brother Abderrahmane Chaoui. ASIDCOM is currently conducting surveys in partnership with this laboratory. It is about the presence of pork in halal products.
NewsHalal: What are the prospects of Muslim investors in the French Halal Market? Where they should invest in the Halal sector?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: The French Halal market is the biggest one in Europe. Muslim stakeholders are mainly present at the distribution stage: butcheries, restaurants, small wholesales. Few Muslims are investing in small unstun poultry abattoirs, livestock and recently in unstun battle abattoirs. But there is real pressure from the veterinary services to avoid efficient practice of the right to religiously slaughter animals by Muslims.
Also, Muslims are more and more interested in halal cosmetic products. Generally, Bio (organic) products are considered as halal. But I think, there is need of more awareness about all kind of products that could contain haram ingredients like detergent for example.
NewsHalal: Please tell us whether Muslim consumers in France understand the difference between Halal slaughtering and stunning or mechanical slaughtering?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: Of course, Muslims in France know very well the religious slaughter. Most of them are from the north of Africa where their families or parents still practice it, individually one per years at least. However, many Muslim consumers are not aware about the use of stunning within halal production. In fact, the French law allows religious slaughter and most Muslims are confident that their religious beliefs are respected by the market stakeholders. The creation since 2006, of Muslim consumers’ group such as ASIDCOM enhances the awareness of Muslim consumers. That’s why today, were seeing gradual change on the market towards Muslims requirements. Yet there is big resistance to this change by the public agents, animal welfare associations and some industrials.
NewsHalal: What is essential to make sure that future Muslim generation will get and consume real Halal products?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: A single religious halal standard is needed to be run by the Muslim religious representative instance that is today CFCM. This standard must respect Muslim consumers’ rights and requirements. Transparency, competence, expertise and solidarity are required to success the mission of protecting Muslims rites and religious rights.
NewsHalal: What is your plan for the future? What do you most want to do?
Hanen Rezgui Pizette: ASIDCOM is primarily a tool to aware, inform and advocate Muslim consumers. Since its creation, it has conducted works and activities to understand challenges and bring right actions to reform the dysfunction of markets targeting Muslims.
Currently ASIDCOM focuses on court procedures to bring some Muslim constitutional rights from the French State. Also, it must sell its new (French and English translated) book “The Republic and Halal” that each Muslim or Non-Muslim halal market stakeholders should read. It teaches about the history of the religious slaughter and halal market since the second war.
There is also the project of writing a legal brief to complete “The Republic and Halal”. But our most important mission will be to collaborate with WMCO and other Muslim groups to reach Muslim consumers in Muslim countries, Incha’ Allah.