State Ethnic Affairs Commission Involved in Regulation of Halal Foods

November 29, 2005

The State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) convened its first working group of experts on November 14 to participate in drafting the “State Council Regulation on Halal Foods Management,” according to a November 15 SEAC report. "Halal" designates foods prepared in accordance with Islamic dietary rules. The working group includes advisors from the China Islamic Association, academia, government think tanks, and the food industry. The SEAC began work on the regulation in 2002 and established an office and leading group in August 2005 to oversee completion of the drafting process. Existing legislation covers the regulation and management of halal products at provincial and local levels. Examples of such legislation from Hebei province, Jilin province, and Chengdu city provide for government regulation of aspects of halal food production beyond general health and safety concerns. The precise impetus and details of the national regulation remain unclear, but some analysts have observed increased government controls over religion in the past year. (For more information, see the CECC roundtable China's New Regulation on Religious Affairs.)

An investigation in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, that was reported in June 2004 on the People's Daily Web site, found that some businesses were misusing the halal label to increase sales. Provisions in the legislation from Hebei, Jilin, and Chengdu all cite the need to respect ethnic minority customs as a motivating factor in regulating halal food production.

China Islamic Association Vice-President Ma Yunfu, a member of the working group for drafting the national-level halal regulation, noted that his organization will share oversight of national halal foods management with the central government. He added that Islamic Association groups at every level have a duty to cooperate with official agencies in managing halal products.

The state-run China Islamic Association works closely with other government bodies to control various aspects of Islamic practice within China. Its duties include determining which mosques may operate, censoring religious texts, and controlling Hajj pilgrimages. For analyses of Chinese government regulation of Islam, see the CECC 2005 Annual Report’s sections on China's Minorities and on Freedom of Religion and the Human Rights Watch report Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang.