Ajinomoto is halal, says Gus Dur


But country’s highest Islamic body charged that his stand is confusing.

President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday lent a new twist to the Ajinomoto debacle by declaring that the flavour enhancer, believed to be pork-tainted, was permissible for consumption by Muslims.

His stand on the matter drew fire immediately from the country’s highest Islamic authority, the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), which charged that he was confusing Indonesia’s predominantly Muslim population with comments that some believed were aimed at assuaging foreign investors.

Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar, who maintained that the controversy had to be put to rest, told reporters after meeting Mr Abdurrahman: “As a person who has the authority on Islam, the President said Ajinomoto is halal. The matter must be resolved. Otherwise, it could give rise to political instability.”

He disclosed that the Muslim cleric based his opinion on research conducted by the respected Indonesian Institute of Sciences in cooperation with the Ministry of Research and Technology and several universities.

He said the government would issue an official statement on the controversy today.

The President’s hopes of defusing tensions appeared to backfire, however, igniting even more political tension. KH Maruf Amin, who heads the MUI body that certifies whether food in Indonesia is halal, stressed that his outfit was the final arbiter when it came to deciding what Muslims can or cannot eat – not the President.

“I don’t know how Gus Dur could have made these remarks. It is baffling. MUI based its findings on laboratory tests and fieldwork. It was a result of a three-month comprehensive investigation.”

Speculation is rife that the President’s stand on the Ajinomoto case was influenced somewhat by a need to repair foreign investors’ confidence in Indonesia.

Given the arrest of eight top Japanese and Indonesian executives plus closing down of a major Ajinomoto factory over the last week, government sources said the palace was concerned whether this would dent business interests from Japan, traditionally one of Indonesia’s largest investors.

Most of Ajinomoto’s top brass have been caught, including the top man, president director Mitsuo Arakawa. All of them are staring at a five-year jail sentence.

It is instructive that the palace stand on the Ajinomoto saga takes place against the backdrop of Japanese Justice Minister Masahiko Komuro’s visit to Jakarta.

Mr Komuro said yesterday that Mr Abdurrahman had told him he had received a report that the widely-used monosodium glutamate-based product was not pork-tainted.

But MUI was quick to point out yesterday that its case was beyond doubt as Ajinomoto officials had already admitted to using pork for economic reasons.

They had used bactosoytone, extracted from pork, in place of polypeptone, which is extracted from beef, as a medium to cultivate bacteria that produces enzymes needed in MSG production.

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