Salaam Gateway (SG): FAMBRAS was founded in 1979 by your Lebanese father Hussein El Zoghbi. Can you tell us more about him and how it all started?
Ali Hussein El Zoghbi: My father came to Brazil in 1949 as part of the second wave of Lebanese immigrants. Many Lebanese Christians had arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After the Second World War it was mainly Muslims who came. Most of them came from the western Bekaa Valley, including my father, who came from Kamed el Loz.
He started out as a peddler, but was initially lucky. At one point he was so desperate that he considered moving back to Lebanon. But then he met Mohamed Hussein, who also came from the Bekaa. He offered my father a meal and took him to a store. He told my father that he could take everything on his account. He also told him to go to the (southwest) state of Parana. My father did as he was told – he sold everything, returned to pay his debts, and started his life. It is this incredible solidarity that saved him.
My father became a merchant, ventured into various businesses and became a pillar of the Islamic community in Brazil. At some point he realized that there was a chance to supply Muslim countries with halal meat. In 1976, for example, he helped organize the first shipment of 650 tons of chicken from Brazil to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Three years later he founded FAMBRAS. The rest is history.
SG: How big is Brazil’s halal sector?
El Zoghbi: An estimated 1.5 million Brazilian jobs are directly or indirectly related to Halal. FAMBRAS employs around 1,500 people. We have certified around 400 companies, 25 of them in the animal protein sector. There aren’t that many (companies) as the market is dominated by a few very large companies. The others, too, are mostly involved in agribusiness – from oil and rice to Brazilian nuts. We are currently working on the certification of two hotels. As my father always said: Brazil could also be a halal tourism center.
SG: How have Brazilian halal meat exports developed since 1976?
El Zoghbi: Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of halal meat. In 2020, Brazil exported around a third of its chicken meat production, around 4.2 million tons, half of which was halal. With around 7.5 million tons, Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, yet only 20% goes to Muslim countries. The total value of Brazilian halal beef and chicken exports in 2020 was around $ 4.7 billion.
SG: What are the main importing countries?
El Zoghbi: For chicken, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union (EU) make the top five. For beef, China, Hong Kong, Egypt, the EU and Chile. However, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have entered the top 10 for beef. The latter is a relatively small country, but it is a hub for re-exports to other countries, including Iran.
SG: What are the other major exports to Muslim countries?
El Zoghbi: In addition to all kinds of agricultural products, Brazil is an important supplier of aircraft to the Persian Gulf. And we think this will grow in the near future. Embraer is the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, specializing in medium-sized aircraft (80-120 seats). In the past, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq bought many Volkswagen Passat cars that were made in Brazil. Back then, Baghdad was inundated with Brazilian-made cars.
SG: Brazil was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 600,000 dead. How has this affected the Halal certification process and Halal exports?
El Zoghbi: We managed to keep working without losses. Both food and health are essential, which is why we have drawn up an emergency plan with the companies involved to protect our employees. We have put in place a protocol so that we can continue to produce food without endangering our employees and complying with our contracts. We did this through social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), a guide booklet, and regular follow-up exams. As for Friday prayer, we started broadcasting the sermon for people to see at home. It was not until the vaccinations were in place that public prayers resumed in the mosque, albeit two meters away. I am very proud of what we have achieved.
SG: How has the term Halal developed over the past 40 years?
El Zoghbi: Today we can say with conviction that Halal has become a seal of quality for consumers around the world. A seal based on an audit of the entire production process. Halal is no longer just about the way the animal was killed. Today we assess where the animal comes from, what it is fed with, whether the type of production harms the environment. The working conditions should also be good. Work that is considered to be slavery, for example, may not bear the Halal seal.
The audit also deals with animal welfare. For example, we have to make sure that the cut is made quickly so that the animal does not feel pain. A cow cannot see another being slaughtered. And it is very important to control blood flow to avoid contamination.
SG: From December 6th to 8th (2021) Fambras co-organized the first ever Global Halal Forum in Brazil. Why?
El Zoghbi: We invited major national and international players to exchange ideas on all aspects of the Halal business. I think Brazil deserves its place at the table. It has become an example of excellence in terms of Halal. We are part of this excellence as we were pioneers in the field, introducing a number of innovations that we thought needed to be communicated. For example, a QR code certification system, more agile management and administrative processes and, above all, traceability. We now have pivot points and documentation that allow the consumer to review the entire process of an animal from birth to slaughter.
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