A Christian voluntary organisation is taking the government to court over its new regulations allowing a wide range of food packaging to be religiously certified and to carry religious signs, such as the halaal certification mark, without regulating the labelling.
It is claimed that these regulations exclude certain faiths, such as Christianity, and is thus unconstitutional.
The National Coalition of Christian Groups and Individuals for Practical Equality and Protection of Constitutional Rights objects to religious labelling, such as the halaal certification mark, that signifies the food can be eaten by Muslims.
This sign appears on a wide range of products, such as meat, drinks, chips, sweets and biscuits.
The coalition said it represents various Christian organisations and Christian people in SA, on whose behalf it is launching the court action. It will ask the Pretoria High Court for orders, including to declare that the religious certifying of the food, which exclude the Christian faith, is unconstitutional.
The coalition will also ask that the ministers of health and trade and industry be forced to introduce measures that will ensure that when these products carry religious signs on its packaging, similar food products – without these signs – also be made available to the consumer.
This, however, would exclude processed food products exclusive to a particular religious group and originate from their faiths (such as slaughtering prescriptions in the case of Muslims), where it would, for example, carry the halaal mark.
Christians do not have any religious signs on foodstuffs and many of the coalition’s members do not favour consumables with religious signs, it said in court papers.
The coalition also fears that consumers would have to foot the bill for these additional markings on packaging.
It will ask the court to force the government to introduce measures ensuring that the costs associated with these signs are not directly or indirectly passed on to consumers of other religious groups who are excluded on the labelling.
The coalition objecting mainly to a notice in the Government Gazette of March 12, in which the Health Minister gave the go-ahead for these religious signs, without proper regulations in place.
Phillip Groenenstein, of the coalition, said in court papers, that religious signs on packaging should be regulated by the government to prevent discriminatory usage.
This was not an attack on any faith or religion, he said, but stressed that the application, launched by Lombards Attorneys in Pretoria is aimed at ensuring equality between faiths and religions.
These food labels evoke religious emotions based on the religious orientation of the different religious groups in our country, he said. An example was the recent hot cross bun debacle over a halaal mark that caused an outcry among many Christians, he said. Woolworths subsequently announced it would next Easter also offer hot cross buns without the halaal sign, he said. - Pretoria News