Aussie palm oil labelling Bill dropped

This is written by my colleague Rupa Damodaran.

The Community Affairs Legislative Committee of the Australian Senate in Canberra has recommended that the  proposed Truth in Labelling - Palm Oil Bill not be passed.

Senator Claire Moore, who was the chair, said the committee is "not convinced that the issues surrounding the presence of palm oil in food products justify circumventing the existing food regulatory framework. The committee considers that widespread and robust support from consumers, industry and conservation groups will be necessary to justify such intervention."

Independent senator Nick Xenophon moved for the Bill in late 2009.

The committee said divisions were evident between industry bodies, between industry and consumer groups, and in some cases even between different conservation groups.

"The committee is also concerned that, even were there strong support, intervention in this manner would cut across the current FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act) standards development process and state and territory laws," it said on the Australian Parliament website yesterday.

It also noted the progress being made in the adoption of the certified sustainable palm oil labelling under existing voluntary arrangements.

Malaysia presented a strong case against the Bill during the committee hearing in April, represented by Malaysian Palm Oil Council CEO Tan Sri Yusof Basiron, Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen from United Plantations Bhd, Datu Vasco Sabat Singkang of the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) and Malaysian High Commissioner Datuk Salman Ahmad.

Malaysia said it was based on misleading claims and aimed at harming its largest agricultural export - palm oil.

Australia's current food regulations do not require palm oil to be labelled on food products but the Bill wants to mandate "the labelling of palm oil that encourage the use of certified sustainable palm oil to promote the protection of wildlife habitat". The Bill also proposes to amend the FSANZ Act 1991, with food manufacturers listing palm oil on food labels.

An alternative argument, presented by Malaysia's Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities, pointed to the absence of trans fats in palm oil, and asserted, therefore, that palm oil is relatively healthy. A range of evidence about the sustainability of oil palm plantations were presented and the trend towards increased oil palm plantations has been driven by oil palm's high-yield nature and efficiency compared with other crops.

Following this, the committee believes that it would not be appropriate to single out palm oil for inclusion in product ingredients lists for health reasons, because listing palm oil would not on its own provide an indication of the nutritional content of foods. It, however, supported the broader approach to labelling reform outlined in Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011), including more detailed label information around sugars, fats and oils.

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