CAIRO — While China is still suffering from a tainted milk scandal, Muslims in the northwest Xinjiang province are feel confident their dairy products are safe, thanks to their halal standards.
"Halal food is traditional," Hui Li Huang, manager of Urumqi Arman halal food store, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, November 7.
"There are few additives to the food during the processing, so it's safer."
China, the world's most populous country, has been hit by its worst tainted milk scandal in modern history.
At least four babies died of kidney failure and 53,000 children fell sick after drinking milk contaminated by industrial chemical melamine, which was added to make the milk appear richer in protein.
The scandal led to massive recalls of Chinese food products containing milk at home and abroad.
But the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province was safe from the contaminated milk because of the halal food standards.
"The dairy industry is regulated by both religious and government institutions," said Wei Sheng Wang, director of the government's Xinjiang trade commission.
In Xinjiang, food products have to be certified by a local Islamic Council which includes imams trained to make sure the products adhere to halal standards.
The council members and government inspectors regularly visit processing factories to ensure the food safety.
"We don't have contamination at the moment," said Wei.
The concept of halal -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
Most dairy products in Xinjiang are produced in the province to be used by the customers.
"Other provinces lost control of the milk supply because they had to get their product from middlemen," said Dan Feng Zhang, general manager of the province's largest milk company, Gary Dairy.
"Here in Xinjiang, the enterprises themselves own the dairy farms and follow strict standards, customs and habits of local Muslims."
The halal food standards have increased confidence in the Xinjiang food products, earning it the name of "China's New Zealand", a reference to that nation's small area but large food export capacity.
For example, Ihlas candy factory on the outskirts of Urumqi, have increased candies and snack pastries exports to Turkey and is planning to expand its markets to other Muslim countries.
Halal meat companies also export its products to neighboring countries with sizable Muslim populations, such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Xinjiang also exports halal products to Mongolia, Japan and Malaysia.
The northwest Xinjiang province has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Beijing views Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.