Malaysia to send reps to Aussie panel hearing

PENAMPANG: Malaysia will send representatives to Australia for a committee hearing to be held before the Bill that requires palm oil labelling, is debated at Australia's Parliamentary level.

This would be another effort in correcting the misconceptions towards Malaysia's palm oil practices, following Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok's recent visit to the land down under.

"As we know the Australian Senate has passed the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labeling - Palm Oil Bill) ... But before the Lower House of the Australian Parliament's debate, there will be a hearing at the committee level.

We are sending representatives and the hearing this time will be on the economic aspects and what we will explain to the Australians is that the oil palm industry has lifted a lot of Malaysians out of the poverty trap, especially in rural areas, with not less than 600,000 people directly or indirectly employed in the plantation industry," he told reporters after launching a district level 1Malaysia futsal competition here yesterday.

He said Australians should be aware that smallholders represented 40 per cent of the industry, which meant if this commodity should be labelled as something unsafe to consume, it would affect the source of livelihood for a lot of people in Malaysia.

Dompok led a delegation to Australia in July to promote several commodities, including rubber and timber, but special focus was given towards lobbying Australians against the Parliamentary move that could threaten Malaysia's palm oil industry.

Asked on when the committee hearing would be held, he said Australian Parliament had set an August 15 deadline for those wanting to present a case and hearing would be fixed hereafter.

"The Malaysian team will consist of people on the ground, experts that have done research on palm oil and will have a chance to present themselves and defend their submissions before the Parliamentarians," he added.

Dompok has also asked the Malaysian Palm Oil Board to hold seminars and workshops in Australia in order for locals to participate and understand more about Malaysia's palm oil industry.

He said although Australia has stated three grounds as reasons to pass the Bill, they were all unfounded due to misconceptions.

"They cited depletion of forests (environmental grounds), displacement of orang utans and that palm oil was harmful on health grounds ... but it is a known fact that Malaysia is committed to preserving at least 50 per cent of total land as forests, and today we have 55.3 per cent as forest reserves.

"And, to say we have destroyed orang utans' habitat due to forest cutting is also not true ... orang utan population is mostly in the east coast of Sabah and smaller numbers yet in Sarawak, where both states have sanctuaries for these primates ... While the health issue of palm oil has been addressed in the past and is no longer an issue," Dompok explained.

In fact, he said the misconceptions towards Malaysia's palm oil practices and the treatment of its wildlife has spread to other countries, which has led to the international community coming to wrong conclusions.

"I have previously visited a zoo in Netherlands, where they had a lot of negative materials pasted around the zoo on how orang utans were kept in Malaysia and how palm oil cultivation was leading to forest depletion.

"When I spoke to some of the zoo staff, they did not know that there were still abundant orang utans in Malaysia. This shows complete ignorance and it is being furthermore fed by (international) NGOs. I told them that they should come and see for themselves in Malaysia," he added. - Bernama

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