Vege spite spreads

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - WENDY HAR­G­REAVES

Sun­day Her­ald Sun, Jan­uary 24, 2010 VEGEMITE has gone ha­lal in a bid by food gi­ant Kraft to make the na­tional ‘‘trea­sure’’ avail­able to Mus­lim Aus­tralians.

The la­bel on Aus­tralia’s most fa­mous spread has changed in re­cent months to in­clude ha­lal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in a move some have de­scribed as ‘‘ridicu­lous’’ po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

‘‘Is­lamic com­mu­ni­ties are proud Aus­tralians and they want to be able to eat our na­tional icon as well,’’ Kraft spokesman Si­mon Tal­bot said.

‘‘We don’t own Vegemite. The peo­ple of Aus­tralia own Vegemite. We’re just the cus­to­di­ans and we want to make sure Vegemite is avail­able for every­one.’’

Mus­lim leaders have con­grat­u­lated Kraft for in­tro­duc­ing the la­bels, but Fam­ily Coun­cil of Vic­to­ria sec­re­tary Bill Muehlen­berg ques­tioned the com­pany’s mo­tives.

‘‘This is a pri­vate com­pany try­ing to make money,’’ Mr Muehlen­berg said. ‘‘I don’t think they care a rip about of­fend­ing the taste­buds of Mus­lims.

‘‘Why do we have to keep bend­ing over back­wards to please mi­nor­ity groups? There are only 300,000 Mus­lims in Aus­tralia out of 22 mil­lion peo­ple, which is a very small per­cent­age.

‘‘Of course, there’s a case for mak­ing al­lowances for dif­fer­ent cul­tures, but aren’t we get­ting a bit car­ried away with po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness here? It’s ridicu­lous.’’

Mr Muehlen­berg feared the ha­lal l a b e l l i n g w a s a l s o a s i g n o f ‘‘Is­lami­sa­tion’’ of west­ern coun­tries.

‘‘We’re al­ready see­ing sharia law courts op­er­at­ing in Bri­tain,’’ he said. ‘‘Where does it end?’’

Since the la­bels were changed in Au­gust, Kraft’s head of­fice has re­ceived reg­u­lar phone calls from peo­ple com­plain­ing about the ha­lal la­belling on Vegemite.

‘‘Peo­ple have called us with some fairly strong views about Aus­tralian so­ci­ety and cul­ture,’’ Mr Tal­bot said. ‘‘Th­ese are views that we at Kraft don’t agree with. We don’t en­gage in racist or big­oted com­men­tary.

‘‘But for ev­ery call we re­ceive ask­ing about it, there is a call to say how proud they are to see it’s ha­lal. We are also proud of our kosher, ha­lal and veg­e­tar­ian prod­ucts.’’

Vegemite has been cer­ti­fied kosher for more than a decade. When Kraft de­cided to scrap kosher Vegemite pro­duc­tion in 2004, the back­lash from Jewish con­sumers forced the com­pany to do a backflip.

Yasser Soliman, Is­lamic Coun­cil of Vic­to­ria past-pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Di­ver­sity Con­nect In­ter­na­tional, said the ha­lal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion on Vegemite was a sign Mus­lims were ‘‘be­com­ing more Aussie’’. Should Vegemite carry the ha­lal stamp? Vote now at her­ald­sun.com.au

Di­vi­sive move: A Vegemite jar bear­ing the ha­lal sticker (above) and (be­low) the sticker.

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