Ajinomoto to get 'halal'

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) is in the process of issuing a halal certificate for Ajinomoto's new monosodium glutamate (MSG) taste enhancer, which uses mameno enzymes -- extracted from soybeans -- instead of the pork-based bactosoytone enzyme.

""Eight representatives of Ajinomoto met with the MUI board on Tuesday at noon and they submitted a request for a halal certificate. We are now in the process of testing the validity of the product,"" MUI chairman Umar Shihab told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. Halal means the product is allowed under Islamic law.

MUI's food and drug laboratory is testing the process used in the production of the new MSG product, which the company claims uses mameno enzymes, he said.

""Besides a scientific investigation, a fatwa committee will study the aspects of Islamic law relating to the product. We will also visit Ajinomoto's factory in Mojokerto (East Java) sometime next week.

""If everything runs smoothly, we may issue the halal certificate within three to four weeks. Basically MUI will not give a hard time to any company that wishes to ask for a halal certificate as long as they abide by the rules,"" Umar said.

MUI supports Ajinomoto restarting production because it concerns the economic well-being of the people, he said.

""But at the same time, MUI has to protect Muslims from consuming haram (forbidden) items. As for changing the company's logo and everything... that is up to (Ajinomoto),"" Umar asserted.

The use of pork enzymes in the production of Ajinomoto's MSG product caused a public furor last month in the country, which is 80 percent Muslim.

Muslims are forbidden under Islamic law to consume pork or pork by-products.

Ajinomoto has guaranteed that all of its pork-tainted products will be recalled from the market and will not be distributed in Indonesia. The company said it would export the products to countries which do not object to the use of bactosoytone, the head of the newly established Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM), Sampurno, said on Wednesday.

""On Jan. 25 a team from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, BPOM and related institutions conducted nationwide monitoring of the recall of Ajinomoto products from the market ... and in a follow-up meeting on Jan. 29, PT Ajinomoto agreed to purchase any remaining tainted products still found on the market,"" Sampurno said.

From Jan. 3 to Jan. 24 this year a total 2,756.1 tons of MSG Ajinomoto, 586.7 tons of the taste enhancer Masako and 68 tons of the Sajiku taste enhancer were pulled from the market, he said.

The tainted products will be exported to non-Muslim countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia.

According to earlier reports, however, Ajinomoto produced 10,000 tons of the MSG taste enhancer with the pork enzyme. As much as 3,000 tons were distributed domestically, while the remaining 7,000 tons were exported.

Sampurno also asserted that the legal process against Ajinomoto would continue.

""But basically we hope that the company will soon start production of its MSG with the mameno enzyme extracted from soybeans,"" he said, adding that 35% chloride acid would be used in its hydrolysis process.

The controversy surrounding the pork-tainted MSG product died down when government scientists concluded early in January that the MSG taste enhancer produced by Ajinomoto did not contain pork enzymes.

President Abdurrahman Wahid declared the product halal, while also telling people to follow their hearts in the matter as MUI had declared earlier the product was haram. (edt)

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