Come meet us, Musa challenges palm oil critics

This is written by my colleague Rupa Damodaran.

KOTA KINABALU: Australian lawmakers must come to Malaysia and see for themselves the situation on the ground before rushing to pass a law which could make bilateral ties awkward between Malaysia and Australia.

Sime Darby Bhd chairman Tun Musa Hitam is keen to meet the Australian politicians who had cast doubts on the agricultural practices of the Malaysian palm oil industry.

Stop scaring consumers with your labelling and "exploiting their fears", he told New Sunday Times recently in response to the palm oil labelling bill which will be presented to the Australian House of Representatives soon.

Criticise but don't cut off our lifeline, he appealed, referring to the 570,000 oil palm farming families who depend on the industry for their livelihood. Sime Darby is one of the forerunners in the private sector which has spent millions of ringgit to save and rehabilitate forests and protect wild species like the orang utan.

To Musa, the move to single out palm oil for the labelling of products can only be termed as a discriminatory one by the Australians.

The bill, which was moved by independent senator Nick Xenophon in late 2009, proposed, among others, amendment to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Act 1991 requiring food manufacturers to list palm oil on food labels.

However, last month, the Community Affairs Legislative Committee of the Australian Senate in Canberra recommended that the bill not be passed.

The bill sought to discriminate palm oil as a food ingredient produced unethically because it wrongly assumes oil palm planting with tropical deforestation, and the endangerment of orang utans and other wildlife.

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