SAY­ING NO TO MIS­LEAD­ING LA­BELS

The Star Malaysia - - Nation -

JUST weeks af­ter Plan­ta­tion In­dus­tries and Com­modi­ties Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong raised his con­cerns about “No Palm Oil” la­bels in a Sept 16 ar­ti­cle in The Star about “Eth­i­cal La­belling: The Way to Go”, the largest pro­ducer of dairy prod­ucts in Den­mark, Arla Foods, stated that it would re­move from sale in Malaysia all prod­ucts bear­ing “no palm oil” or “palm oil free” la­bels. All such la­bels and prod­ucts, which dis­crim­i­nate against palm oil, are ex­pected to be re­moved within 60 days.

Here, the min­is­ter ex­plains fur­ther about such la­bels.

Q: Why are “No Palm Oil” la­bels on food prod­ucts such a prob­lem?

A: These la­bels are meant to mis­lead the con­sumer. They are not re­quired by law, nor do they pro­vide any in­for­ma­tion to the con­sumer. They are there for only one rea­son: to im­ply that be­cause a prod­uct does not con­tain palm oil, that prod­uct is some­how nu­tri­tion­ally or en­vi­ron­men­tally su­pe­rior. This is false, and is an unac­cept­able at­tempt to mis­lead Malaysian con­sumers.

These la­bels also per­pe­trate a huge in­jus­tice against small­hold­ers and other palm oil pro­duc­ers, be­cause the la­bels build sus­pi­cion and neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment in the minds of con­sumers. We have seen this in Europe, al­ready. If such an ad­ver­tis­ing nar­ra­tive is not nipped in the bud, it can be­come “ac­cepted wis­dom” even though it is ac­tu­ally false. The la­bels are there­fore a se­ri­ous threat to the con­tin­ued sta­bil­ity and suc­cess of Malaysian palm oil. This is why the Gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to re­mov­ing the la­bels.

Q: What alerted you to the prob­lem in Malaysia with Lur­pak?

A: The Malaysian Palm Oil Coun­cil (MPOC) was ex­tremely dili­gent in alert­ing me to the “No Palm Oil” la­bels on packs of Lur­pak spread. It is right that as soon as MPOC dis­cov­ered the la­bels, they alerted the Gov­ern­ment so that ac­tion could be taken.

I au­thored an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “Eth­i­cal La­belling the Way to Go”, which was a pub­lic de­mand that these la­bels be re­moved from prod­ucts. Arla Foods (the Dan­ish com­pany that owns the Lur­pak brand) is a guest here in our coun­try, and they must be re­spect­ful of our rules and na­tional in­ter­ests.

Very shortly af­ter my mes­sage in the me­dia, the Em­bassy of Den­mark and Arla Foods con­tacted the min­istry to ex­plain that they heard and un­der­stood my mes­sage. A meet­ing was ar­ranged at the min­istry on Oct 5, to dis­cuss how Arla Foods would im­ple­ment the Gov­ern­ment’s de­mand to re­move the la­bels.

Q: What was agreed at the meet­ing with Arla Foods and the Dan­ish Em­bassy?

A: I set out the Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion very clearly, that the la­bels must be re­moved. This is mo­ti­vated by the need to pro­tect our Malaysian palm oil small farm­ers and all of those in the coun­try who de­pend on palm oil pro­duc­tion.

Over two mil­lion peo­ple; both di­rectly and in­di­rectly rely on palm oil for their in­come and liveli­hoods. Palm oil re­mains an im­por­tant life­line for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties as 650,000 small­hold­ers de­pend on it and pro­duce 40% of the pro­duc­tion. We can­not ac­cept that for­eign com­pa­nies come to Malaysia and den­i­grate our prod­ucts.

Arla Foods has agreed to with­draw and re­move all such la­bels on prod­ucts within 60 days. I wel­come this move, and look for­ward to the pol­icy be­ing fully im­ple­mented. The meet­ing was there­fore very suc­cess­ful, and the out­come ben­e­fits all of our small­hold­ers.

Q. Do you have a mes­sage for other food com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Malaysia?

A: Yes. Arla Foods is not the only for­eign com­pany op­er­at­ing in Malaysia that has is­sues with Palm Oil, whether through la­belling or other means. The Gov­ern­ment is clear: this will not be tol­er­ated. Our high­est pri­or­ity is pro­tect­ing and de­fend­ing the best in­ter­ests of the peo­ple of Malaysia, in­clud­ing all of those who work in our palm oil sec­tor.

To all those com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Malaysia, I have a sim­ple mes­sage: you are wel­come here, we want you to op­er­ate and sell your prod­ucts here but you, in turn, must be re­spect­ful of our prod­ucts, our peo­ple, and yes, our palm oil.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Dr Ah­mad Zahid Hamidi has also said re­cently that the Gov­ern­ment would not be silent on any cam­paign against palm oil and would give a fit­ting re­sponse to those who harmed the palm oil industry.

The DPM has called on every­body to re­spond to all neg­a­tive cam­paigns against palm oil, and re­spond ra­tion­ally with facts and fig­ures on the is­sues of de­for­esta­tion and destruc­tion of wildlife.

He also pointed out that the industry was fac­ing un­prece­dented chal­lenges such as anti-palm oil cam­paigns par­tic­u­larly in the Euro­pean Union, which sys­tem­at­i­cally side­lined the palm oil industry.

Q: Most “No Palm Oil” la­bels are found in Europe. How do you plan to tackle those la­bels that

are preva­lent in Europe?

A: My min­istry has been ad­dress­ing this is­sue head on. I met per­son­ally with the EU Com­mis­sioner and sev­eral mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in my most re­cent trip to Europe.

The MPOC has also been con­duct­ing ef­fec­tive cam­paigns against the “No Palm Oil” la­bels in Europe.

More can, and must, be done. Many of the com­pa­nies us­ing the la­bels are also mem­bers of the Round­table on Sus­tain­able Palm Oil (RSPO). RSPO rules state that the la­bels are not al­lowed: these rules must be en­forced, and RSPO must en­sure that none of its mem­ber com­pa­nies use such neg­a­tive la­belling.

Q: Fi­nally, will the new Malaysian Sus­tain­able Palm Oil (MSPO) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion help with re­mov­ing the “No Palm Oil” la­bels?

A: Ab­so­lutely. The MSPO is a game-changer for the Malaysian palm oil sec­tor. It will al­low small­hold­ers to achieve cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, an im­por­tant and nec­es­sary ad­vance for the Malaysian palm oil sec­tor.

MSPO is also a mes­sage to the world: a manda­tory scheme, un­der­taken by the Gov­ern­ment and de­signed us­ing in­ter­na­tional best prac­tices. MSPO il­lus­trates Malaysia’s com­mit­ment to lead­ing the world in palm oil sus­tain­abil­ity.

Through MSPO, we will en­sure that small­hold­ers will also have an equal op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion scheme and can gain mar­ket ac­cess later.

Dur­ing our meet­ing on Oct 5, Arla Foods com­mit­ted to work­ing with the Gov­ern­ment on MSPO. The Dan­ish em­bassy fur­ther stated that it sup­ports sus­tain­able palm oil pro­duc­tion and will con­tinue the con­struc­tive di­a­logue with the Malaysian Gov­ern­ment in find­ing long term sus­tain­able so­lu­tions of high global stan­dards en­sur­ing the ben­e­fit of con­sumers, ru­ral farm­ers, industry and other stake­hold­ers.

It’s im­por­tant that MSPO gains such wider ac­cep­tance: this will be es­sen­tial for de­liv­er­ing full value to our small­hold­ers.

Nina Hvid Talvela of the Royal Dan­ish Em­bassy in Malaysia meet­ing with Arla Foods Sdn Bhd Vice Pres­i­dent South East Asia Mark Boot and Mah.

Oil palm fruits

An aerial view of Ten­na­ma­ram palm oil es­tate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.