Restaurant chains that sell halal food to tourists in New York City
Restaurants that sell food to U.S. visitors are raising concerns about the safety of halal certification requirements, after they opened their doors to diners from the Middle East, Canada and Israel.
Halal restaurants and their owners say they’re being asked to comply with an expanded definition of halala, a set of guidelines for food and products approved by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Food Information Council.
They argue they need to adhere to strict standards in order to sell halala-certified food to Americans and, in the process, to protect their brands.
But critics say the regulations are overly broad and are hurting businesses in areas that rely on foreign customers to fill their menus.
“There’s a whole series of concerns that have come up,” said Michael Zellner, a lawyer who represents the owners of a New York-based restaurant chain called Halal Burger and a Halal Grill in New Jersey.
“The restaurant industry is suffering from a lack of understanding of what the law is, of what they’re supposed to be doing, and of the risks involved in complying with it.”
Halal Burger owner Alain Leclerc said he was concerned about the new regulations and the new guidelines in a letter to the New York State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) last week.
He said the state has not provided any guidance for what he is allowed to sell and he was not even sure what the regulations specifically said about halal certifications.
The state, however, has already issued new guidelines for halal restaurants in New Mexico, Washington and Vermont, which has a long history of catering to Middle Eastern visitors, according to DHMH.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Consumer Protection said that in New Hampshire, restaurants that sell Halal food must adhere to the revised regulations.
Halal restaurant owners also have a federal case pending in New Orleans against the New Orleans Metropolitan Parish District Attorney’s office, which issued a ruling last month that the state’s regulations were not constitutional.
The restaurant owners said they were told they would have to comply under the new rules, but they have not heard back from DHMH or the state attorney general’s office.
The owners said the agency should give them more time.
The New York restaurant owners say the guidelines don’t specify what they must have to sell food under the regulations, and the regulations don’t provide any guidelines for what they can have on their menu.
They also say they’ve never been asked to remove any of the food on their menus from the state of New York, even when the state requires it, according.
The federal courts in New Zealand have issued two similar rulings against New York state for similar issues, and a New Jersey court ruled against New Hampshire on similar grounds.
In Washington state, the owners said DHMH should provide them with guidance on what Halal certifiers are allowed to have on the menu and the minimum level of food that can be sold to tourists.
They are also calling on DHMH to make changes that would prevent the state from taking away their business.