Kosher and halaal infant formula

For both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, there is no separation between the concept of worship and the mundane contexts of everyday life. And when it comes to food, one must remain conscious and grateful to the source of one’s nourishment, even when that food is fed to minors.

The dietary teachings of Judaism and Islam apply to more than just meat. Here are the ingredients Kosher and Halaal certification bodies look out for that may render a product unsuitable.

Kosher means “fit” (fit for consumption) by a Jewish person and there are numerous requirements for food to be certified as Kosher. Before slaughter, just the same as any other religious precepts, a blessing must be offered: “Blessed are You O L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us on the act of slaughtering.”

“Mother’s milk is regarded as best for baby, but where supplementation is necessary, both faiths allow for formula milk.” 

Halaal means “permissible” and food certified as halaal-compliant means that the process from slaughtering of meat to food production has been certified to contain only halaal ingredients. Before slaughter, a prayer is offered on the animal: “In the name of God, the Greatest.”

The dietary regulations governing Jews and Muslims begins even before the child is born, with advice to the mother to be careful about what she consumes lest it affects the developing spirituality of the soul of the child in utero.

Rabbi Yossi Baumgarten, Principal Rabbinical Supervisor of the Kashrut Department of the Beth Din of Johannesburg, says, “We caution the mother to be careful of what she consumes and listens to, because the soul of the child is there, and this will affect the child’s spirituality. According to the Code of Jewish Law, if a mother consumes medicine that is non-kosher, she should refrain from nursing her child until the medication is out of her body so that she does not pass the non-kosher ingredients over to the child.” Mother’s milk is regarded as best for baby, but where supplementation is necessary, both faiths allow for formula milk.

Ingredients to look out for

  • Lactose

For kosher certification, the lactose must come from the milk of a kosher animal, which means the animal fulfils the two Biblical criteria: It must have cloven hooves and chew the cud. While all mammals produce milk, and thus lactose, not all are regarded as kosher animals. The production of the lactose must also be kosher compliant to make sure there is no contamination with non-kosher ingredients and equipment.
For halaal certification, if the lactose that is derived directly from cows it would be halaal-compliant; however, if it is derived from whey then the additional ingredients used for coagulation would need to be investigated.

  • Skim milk powder

Kosher: The process of making skim milk powder necessitates that the facility be kosherised, which is a process of cleaning and purging to ensure that there is no contamination with non-kosher ingredients.
Halaal authorities would equally investigate that the spray drying towers do not have other contaminants and are thoroughly cleaned.

  • Whey powder

Kosher: Whey powder is a by-product of the cheese-making process and may contain ingredients that are non-Kosher. However, in South Africa most cheeses are made with microbial rennet rather than animal rennet, so locally produced whey powder is more likely to be suitable – but it must be manufactured in a kosher plant.
Halaal: While the label may state whey, the enzyme used for coagulation may be of animal origin which would then render it not halaal-compliant.

  • Fish oil

Kosher: Until about 50 years ago, cooking oil in South Africa was either vegetable or derived from fish (you may still hear communities refer to cooking oil as “fish oil”). While fish oil generally fulfils halaal requirements, not all fish are regarded as kosher. Infant formulas produced in South Africa generally use salmon (a kosher fish) as a source of omega oil, but this would be double-checked before giving kosher certification.
Halaal: All fish oil would be permissible for Muslims unless colouring is used in the oil, but this is rarely the case with infant formula.

  • Amino acids and vitamins

Kosher and halaal: Certain amino acids can be problematic as they may be of either animal or vegetable origin. Vitamin B3 too may be derived from either animal or vegetable material.

Specialised formulas

Hypoallergenic formulas are not produced in South Africa and are thus outside the jurisdiction of local certification bodies. The most popular brand available locally contains pork enzymes.
Kosher: If indicated by a medical doctor, however, parents should consult a rabbinical authority for clarity.
Halaal: Where there is a medical condition and a Muslim medical doctor prescribes the formula and there are no halaal alternatives, then it would be permissible for consumption.

Is it enough to simply read the list of ingredients? 

“Even if you are a food technologist, you would need to rely on a certifying body or query directly from the food manufacturer to ensure that the ingredients used in formula are of vegetable origin or halaal-compliant animal sources,” says Moulana Navlaki of the South African National Halaal Authority (SANHA). “A label of whey powder, for example, will not tell you if the enzyme used during production is of animal or vegetable origin.”

Another scenario is where a family may be travelling overseas and decide to purchase the same brand they use in South Africa – can they be certain that the same brand will be kosher or halaal as it is at home? While the same brands may be internationally available, individual ingredients may not meet kosher or halaal standards. Omega oil, for example, may be derived from shark which would render it non-kosher. Thus, one should ensure that the food item is certified by the local kosher or halaal authority before consuming.

Who pays for certification?

For those who do not follow kosher or halaal dietary needs, is there an unfair pressure to pay for the certification when you do not follow the faith?

“We completely reject this concept,” says Navlakhi, who cites a survey done by consumer-rights journalist Wendy Knowler on the cost of halaal- and kosher-certified products. Knowler’s research establishes that certification costs are absorbed by the company and that products carrying certification may cost less than similar products that are not certified.

SANHA uses the example of burgers in South Africa: buying a halaal burger costs the same price as buying a burger from an outlet of the same franchise that is not certified. Burger for burger, the prices remain the same.

Giving thanks

Across all faiths, children are regarded as a blessing from the Creator. For Muslims and Jews, raising one’s children according to the laws of the faith is a way of nurturing them both spiritually and physically, in acknowledgement of the blessing bestowed on the family.

Stay posted for a list of kosher approved and halaal certified infant formulas coming next week.