"No Palm Oil" labels misleading

PETALING JAYA: THE defamatory campaign of “No Palm Oil” or “Palm Oil Free” on food labels in Europe is hurting oil palm planters' livelihoods and denying palm oil exporters equal opportunities to trade.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) chief executive officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said the plam oil industry has no problem complying with the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation.

In fact, he said the palm oil industry is proud to supply European companies and consumers with nutritious and responsibly produced palm oil.

“The problem lies in the "No Palm Oil" defamatory insinnuation on the front-of-pack food labels," he said.

In an interview with Business Times yesterday, Yusof explained that the spread of negative message on the front-of-pack food labels is misleading the public into believing that saturated fats in palm oil are bad when in reality they are necessary in a balanced diet.

Since 13th December 2014, the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation mandated specification of vegetable oils (i.e. palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soya) on the ingredient list.  

However, food firms had also inserted “No Palm Oil” on the labels, which falsely insinuates palm oil is bad and needs to be avoided.

In Europe, these discriminatory labels are being promoted by chocolate maker Galler and supermarket chain Delhaize, Limagrain and Casino.

Palm oil contains a higher percentage of saturated fats compared with soft oils such as olive, soya, rapeseed and sunflower. At the same time, half of palm oil is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — known to increase good cholesterol and benefit the cardiovascular system.

Since the 1980s until now, Yusof said there had been studies proving the hydrogenation of liquid oil into spreadable margarine is the real trigger in raising risks of cardiovascular diseases.

“The truth is, palm oil does not contain cholesterol, and saturated fats are a necessity in our daily diet. The real villains in cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are the artificial trans fats brought on by hydrogenation of soft oils to make margarine.”

He said there are more than 150 studies proving that tocotrienols, vitamin E variants in palm oil, lower bad cholesterol.

"Food labelling in Europe should be highlighting the facts about palm oil. But what we see is rogue labelling, which are not provided for under the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation. 

"These labels do not correctly inform the consumers. In fact, they unfairly defame palm oil and confuse consumers,” Yusof said. 

Following the deadline of 13th December 2014, Yusof said oil palm planters had expected the governments of France and Belgium to stop these misleading and defamatory labels.

"The oil palm is Malaysia’s economic security crop,” Yusof said, in reference to the country’s annual US$20 billion palm oil exports which support some two million jobs and livelihoods along the sprawling value chain.  

"The least the oil palm planters of developing nations can expect from the French and Belgian governments is to stop these misleading front-of-pack labels and responsibly enforce integrity of information to consumers and businesses," he said.

Yusof noted the 2015 rollout of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard reassures the public-at-large that Malaysian palm oil is being produced on the balanced needs of People, Planet and Profits. 

The MSPO, which is driven by the government of Malaysia, gives testament that the industry provide decent jobs and income growth to oil palm planters, including for 300,000 small farmers, while maintaining commitments to environmental protection and sustainable returns to investors.

Yusof said MPOC will press on to raise public awareness in Europe on the facts of palm oil nutrition and oil palm cultivation.