While Woolworths has come under fire from some Christians for putting the halaal certification mark on hot-cross bun packaging, Father Chris Townsend of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference has labelled the issue “a storm in a baking pan”.
Yesterday e-mails on the issue made the rounds of SA and also featured on Twitter and Facebook.
In the messages some members of the Christian community complained that hot-cross buns had special significance to Christians, and thus the halaal symbol – signifying foods Muslims may eat – should not be used.
“It’s not about the ingredients – it’s the act of taking something tied to my beliefs and stamping it with a halaal symbol,” another read.
But Townsend said it was “over-reaction by some members of the Christian community” and people should be more understanding.
“We live in a multicultural society and need more understanding and religious tolerance… Hot-cross buns are only a symbol and not a central tenet of Christianity. There are a lot more weighty issues to deal with in SA than a few ‘hot cross Christians’,” he said.
“Woolworths is not being insensitive to Christians. In fact, they are being sensitive to the food certification requirement to accommodate all communities by including the halaal and kosher marks. Christians don’t have the same food-marking requirements, so I don’t have a problem with the issue. The halaal stamp does not mean the food was prayed for by Muslims, but that it is okay for Muslims to eat,” said Townsend.
Responding to e-mailed questions from The Mercury, Woolworths said it had had complaints from some Christian customers.
“They were unhappy about us selling hot-cross buns with a halaal certification over the Easter period. We apologise and assure our customers that no offence was intended… our next Easter offer will have both non-halaal certified hot-cross buns and halaal certified spiced buns,” it said.
“Woolworths sells hot-cross buns throughout the year. They are produced in a facility that is halaal-certified. Our desire was to offer this well-loved product on an all-inclusive basis that would not exclude any of our customers from enjoying them… All our customers are very important to us and we take all their feedback seriously,” added the company.
Woolworths said hot-cross buns had been sold in shops under the current labelling for several years.