Victory for consumers and oil palm planters

This is written by my colleague Rupa Damodaran.

KUALA LUMPUR: Palm oil industry players, in lauding the move by the Australian Senate committee to reject a mandatory palm oil labelling bill, say the battle is far from over for the commodity to gain wider market access in international markets.

The decision from Canberra spelt a sweet and significant victory for Malaysia's important commodity against the unjust and misleading anti-palm oil campaigns by environmental non-government organisations (NGOs), they added.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) CEO Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said while the report is seen as a significant repudiation of environmental NGOs' anti-palm oil campaigns, the industry must continue to fight against global efforts to require mandatory labelling.

Efforts must continue to ensure producers retain market access across the globe and consumers, such as those in Australia, continue to benefit from the use of a low-cost vegetable oil.

"We appreciate the committee's professionalism, especially taking into consideration a rigorous scientific evaluation instead of relying on the NGOs (in drafting a bill), which if allowed, can lead to zero trade," he said, when contacted yesterday.

Yusof led a team to present Malaysia's case to the Senate hearing in Canberra on the mandatory labelling of palm oil proposed under the Truth in Labelling - Palm Oil Bill, two months ago. In Malaysia's case, Yusof pointed out, the palm oil industry has been a pillar of economic growth and societal advancement as smallholders account for 39 per cent of palm oil production, while producers enjoy incomes four times above the national poverty level.

The industry is also committed to conservation efforts through initiatives like the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Meanwhile, United Plantations executive director of corporate affairs Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen welcomed the news, saying it was a decision made based on facts and figures and not emotional exaggeration. "It's a positive development for Malaysia in terms of how palm oil is viewed abroad - which not everything thrown by the NGOs are swallowed hook, line and sinker. We consider it a fair and just decision, not only to the industry, but to smallholders. Had it (the Bill) gone through, it would have put in more wind to the detractors out there to tarnish palm oil," he commented.

Bek-Nielsen, who was also present at the Senate hearing, said some of the comments from the organisations on the planting of oil palm were based on wild exaggeration. He said palm oil producers in Malaysia and Indonesia should not be afraid to take on battles (against the crop) as long as there is injustice taking place and counter them.

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