If Australia is to capitalise on jobs and exports in the rural sector, it needs to ensure its food is halal certified.
So says Coalition Federal MP Bruce Scott, who heads a parliamentary committee examining exports to the Middle East.
Mr Scott says Australia is selling more food by value to the Middle East than to China.
He says halal certification is a prerequisite for exporting to the Middle East.
The Queensland-based MP says there are opportunities for Australia to expand its export market in the Middle East, but nothing should be taken for granted.
"The old saying the buyer is always right, we've got to make sure that we're meeting buyer expectations and requirements for the export into those markets," he said.
"It's a bit like the Heart (Foundation) Tick — if you want a product that's good for your heart, look for the heart tick."
Mr Scott says Australia sells 10,000 lamb and mutton carcasses a day to the Middle East and the demand for clean, green and fresh products is “extraordinary.”
He does not think his Coalition colleagues are opposed to Halal certification, but rather they are concerned about the process of accreditation for the inspectors.
The veteran MP says he is open-minded about the costs and the structures governing the process of Halal certification but says it needs to be open, accountable and have credibility.
Halal certification would also provide jobs for Australian workers and that he did not believe the current public debate would jeopardise Australia's exports into neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.
The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe. Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass.
For a meat to be certified "halal," it cannot be a forbidden cut (such as meat from hindquarters) or animal (such as pork.)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is comfortable Australian companies are paying Islamic groups for halal certification, but other MPs would like to see the practice curbed.
Processors pay Islamic organisations to certify that foods are prepared according to Islamic law.
Mr Abbott believes Australians want to see certified agricultural businesses thrive by being able to export produce to Muslim countries.
"If we want our exports to grow all the time, this is what we need to do and I think that's what Australians want," Mr Abbott said during a visit to a halal-certified meat supplier in Hobart recently.
Free trade deal
That view isn't shared by some of his fellow Liberals, including Senator Cory Bernardi who wants an parliamentary inquiry into what he claims is a "racket".
He wants to clarify whether funds from the certification process were being funnelled into extremist organisations as had been the case overseas, he said.
The issue is becoming more important as Australia seeks to kick-start talks on a free trade deal with the Gulf states, as well as boost exports to Asia.
Nationals MP George Christensen and independent senator Jacqui Lambie have also raised concerns, while a petition before parliament urges politicians to ban the practice.