No den­i­gra­tion of palm oil

It’s im­por­tant that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Malaysians do not fall prey to the nega­tiv­ity and fake news that have been di­rected at palm oil

New Straits Times - - News / Story Of The Day -

IT is well known that palm oil has faced sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems in Europe, in­clud­ing neg­a­tive pub­lic opin­ion in­flu­enced by neg­a­tive la­belling of food prod­ucts.

What is less well known is that such neg­a­tive in­flu­ences are creeping into Malaysian life as well. Vis­i­tors to Malaysian shops can now see the un­der­min­ing of palm oil on our own su­per­mar­ket shelves, and even in lo­cal mar­kets.

It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of all of us to hold to ac­count those com­pa­nies that are un­der­min­ing our na­tional in­ter­est in this way and de­lib­er­ately un­der­min­ing palm oil, which is a key pil­lar of the Malaysian econ­omy.

We must re­mem­ber why this is nec­es­sary. Palm oil is one of Malaysia’s great na­tional suc­cesses — and our largest sin­gle ex­port.

Mil­lions of our fel­low cit­i­zens rely on this mir­a­cle crop, for their fam­i­lies’ in­comes, liveli­hoods, and for pro­vid­ing a bet­ter life for their chil­dren. Our ru­ral ar­eas have been trans­formed be­yond recog­ni­tion, into oases of pros­per­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

For the sec­tor to con­tinue to suc­ceed, it’s im­por­tant that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Malaysians do not fall prey to the nega­tiv­ity and fake news that have been di­rected at palm oil else­where. An on­go­ing ex­am­ple is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of “No Palm Oil” ad­ver­tis­ing or la­belling on food — of­ten ac­com­pa­nied, for ex­am­ple, by the de­lib­er­ate pro­mo­tion of com­pet­ing oils. Such den­i­gra­tory ad­ver­tis­ing has had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on palm oil in Europe — and could do so in Malaysia, un­less we are vig­i­lant and act quickly.

First, we must fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion. The new gen­er­a­tion of Malaysians should be pro­vided with the data and facts about the ben­e­fits of palm oil, to en­sure they have the knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing to re­ject the naysay­ers.

This is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of all of us — gov­ern­ment, in­dus­try, me­dia, par­ents, and so on. Through work­ing to­gether, and shar­ing the bur­den of ed­u­cat­ing our young, we can en­sure that re­spect and rev­er­ence for the ben­e­fits of palm oil is passed on down the gen­er­a­tions.

For ex­am­ple, I re­cently met with a group of re­searchers from the United States of America who are de­vel­op­ing a drug to fight Alzheimer’s disease and the main com­po­nent of the drug is palm ker­nel oil.

How­ever, ed­u­ca­tion on its own may not suf­fice. The la­bels that can be found in Malaysian su­per­mar­kets, or on­line, are an un­ac­cept­able put-down of one of our most-im­por­tant in­dus­tries.

We must look closely at what proac­tive steps can be taken, whether in the form of con­sumer ac­tions to send a mes­sage to the com­pa­nies in­volved; or gov­ern­ment ac­tion to ad­dress the root of the is­sue.

The Dan­ish brand Lur­pak is a prom­i­nent ex­am­ple. The prod­uct con­tains a stick on la­bel on the back side of the con­tainer, and when peeled back, says — Con­tains no Palm Oil.

Lur­pak’s par­ent com­pany is a mem­ber of the Round­table on Sus­tain­able Palm Oil (RSPO), whose rules in­clude a com­mit­ment from mem­bers not to be­smirch or un­der­mine sus­tain­able palm oil pro­duc­tion. Lur­pak’s pack­ag­ing is a clear at­tempt to un­der­mine and crit­i­cise Malaysian palm oil, and to openly pro­mote alternative oils.

This is not the first time that an RSPO mem­ber com­pany has taken such anti-Palm Oil ac­tion. The French su­per­mar­ket, Casino, has been us­ing No Palm Oil la­bels for years — whilst re­main­ing an RSPO mem­ber.

RSPO’s re­sponses are clearly in­ad­e­quate and in­ef­fec­tive: the com­pa­nies such as Lur­pak con­tinue to den­i­grate palm oil — even here in Malaysia.

Th­ese com­pa­nies may ar­gue that the “No Palm Oil” la­bels are not an il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity; that their prod­uct for­mu­la­tions are a mat­ter for them alone; that they are tech­ni­cally not in breach of RSPO rules.

Such tech­ni­cal ar­gu­men­ta­tion does not ex­cuse their ac­tions. Th­ese com­pa­nies are us­ing RSPO as a shield to hide be­hind, to al­low them to con­tinue their anti-Palm Oil cam­paigns.

If RSPO is se­ri­ous about de­fend­ing palm oil, then this shield must be taken away. It is time to take ac­tion.

My min­istry looks be­yond sim­ply the tech­ni­cal ques­tion of the la­bels.

Com­pa­nies such as Lur­pak make a free choice to en­ter the Malaysian mar­ket: they ask for the trust of hard­work­ing Malaysians. This means they have a wider re­spon­si­bil­ity. They must en­sure that their ac­tions are within the cor­rect spirit, not just the tech­ni­cal let­ter of the rules.

There is an eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity, along­side the le­gal one. When over 1 mil­lion Malaysians — in­clud­ing 650,000 small famers — rely on palm oil for their liveli­hoods, is it re­ally eth­i­cally de­fen­si­ble for a com­pany op­er­at­ing in Malaysia to den­i­grate palm oil? My an­swer is no.

Of course, the vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese com­pa­nies are wel­come: they pro­vide prod­ucts and ser­vices that we Malaysians want and need.

Most are law-abid­ing and re­spect­ful. We must be clear, though: just as we wel­come and praise the ma­jor­ity who act cor­rectly, we should clearly con­demn those who seek to un­der­mine Malaysia.

The Gov­ern­ment has been clear that we will de­fend the rights of the palm oil small farm­ers against dis­crim­i­na­tion from abroad.

The Prime Min­is­ter has stated that we will take re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures against coun­tries that dis­crim­i­nate against palm oil and palm oil based prod­ucts.

We must be just as watch­ful at home, as we are abroad. Un­fair or il­le­gal dis­crim­i­na­tion by for­eign com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing within our bor­der can­not be con­doned.

To the com­pa­nies who have cho­sen to den­i­grate palm oil: my ad­vice is sim­ple, stop do­ing so and work with us in ad­dress­ing your con­cerns in a sin­cere man­ner.

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