Smear campaign hits home ground

THE Australian "Don't Palm Us Off" smear campaign against the palm oil industry has hit Malaysia in its homeground. Palm oil industry leaders are enraged and seeks remedial action. OOI TEE CHING writes.

Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (Poram) chairman Wan Mohd Zain Wan Ismail looked dejectedly at photographs of carpet cleaning spray solutions sold at local supermarkets. 

The products' front labelling had stickers with orangutan icons appealing for “Palm Oil Free” products. 

He shook his head. “In the world of vegetable oils trade war, this reputation attack in our frontyard is uncalled for and totally out of line," he told Business Times in an interview.

Last year, in Singapore, this same supermarket chain had also prominently displayed "Palm Oil Free" signages for an infant milk manufacturer.

"You don’t go around smearing other people’s image to unscrupulously grab market share and curb market access. The spreading of twisted half truths and lies about oil palm cultivation is hurting our reputation, our business and our livelihoods," he said. 

Wan Zain held up the carpet cleaning spray solution with on-the-front 'Palm Oil Free' labelling. "The importer and the retailers of this product with negative labelling are equally guilty. 

"Action must be taken against these defamatory acts that are hurting our oil palm industry's image and the livelihoods of many people along the palm oil's sprawling value chain," he said. 

"The culprits must be taken to task for hurting and discrediting our national economic security crop. The palm oil industry forms the backbone of Malaysia's economy. We earn US$20 billion per year in palm oil exports," he said.

"The public is being misled into believing that oil palm cultivation is being carried out at the expense of wildlife when in reality, the oil palm is the world's most sustainable oil crop," said Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP) chief executive officer Azizan Abdullah, in a separate interview.

Unknown to many, Azizan said oil palm planters have, for the past decade, established the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) that is contributing to wildlife conservation and research.

Azizan said these defamatory campaigns against the palm oil industry are very much fuelled by trade politics of soyabean and rapeseed producers in the western world.

Wan Zain concurred, saying that it is not a coincidence that defamatory campaigns on palm oil originate from rival oil-producing continents which have lost global market share to palm oil, as Malaysia and Indonesia expanded their oil palm plantings. 

Malaysia and Indonesia, which contribute 85 per cent of global palm oil output, produce around 20 million tonnes and 33 million tonnes, respectively.

This year, global palm oil output is expected to total 63 million tonnes while soya and rapeseed oils are anticipated to touch 47 million tonnes and 27 million tonnes, respectively. 

In the 15-year period to 2015, Oil World and other authoritative statistics show global palm oil output expanded two times faster than soya and rapeseed oils. As global palm oil usage increased over the years, so did trade rivalry. Hence, the coveted smear campaigns on the oil palm industry.

According to the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, Australia is the world’s second-largest rapeseed exporter, shipping 2.12 million tonnes a year, mostly to the European Union (EU).

"Australia's No.1 rapeseed client is the EU. It is not a coincidence that the Australia's "Don't Palm Us Off" orangutan campaign is similar to “No Palm Oil” labelling in France and Belgium," Wan Zain said. 

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

But 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. 

“Since there is no scientific proof that palm oil is bad for health, it is deceptive and malicious for these food manufacturers to go on using the ‘No Palm Oil’ labels,” he said.

These insidious smear campaigns on palm oil has one clear objective, which is to kill the growth of oil palm plantings and reduce palm oil consumption in the global market.

As more and more defamatory campaigns such as the “Palm Oil Free” and "No Palm Oil" labelling on food and cleaning products tarnish the image of the palm oil industry, Wan Zain said exporters from Malaysia and Indonesia are denied equal opportunities to trade.

"We must stand up for our rights to equal opportunities to trade. We must fight on to dismantle trade barriers which have manifested into many facets," he said, adding the bigger the palm oil industry grows, the easier it becomes an unfortunate target.