Palm oil smear campaign hits Sarawak

This is written by my colleagues ADIB POVERA, GOH PEI PEI and SOPHIA IVY JO at Kuching Bureau.

KUCHING: A smear campaign, which is detrimental to the nation’s palm oil industry, has hit the state after creating a fuss in the peninsula some months ago.

Acting on a tip-off, the New Straits Times conducted checks at a local supermarket here yesterday and found a wooden floor cleaner, imported from Australia and labelled with a sticker which compelled customers to use the palm oil-free product.

The label states that customers can “save the orang utans by buying the palm oil-free cleaner.” The wood cleaner is being sold at RM15.89 for a bottle of 750ml.

It was learnt that the supermarket chain had sold the same products in the peninsula, which sparked an outrage among palm oil industry leaders in February. At that time, it was priced RM14.99 per bottle.

Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (Poram) chairman Wan Mohd Zain Wan Ismail was furious when asked to comment about the product being sold at the supermarket here.

“This is not the first time the supermarket is selling the product with the 'negative labelling' that defames the nation’s palm oil industry.

“When it happened the first time, we understood that some might be unaware of the fact that palm oil is a significant economic contributor to Malaysia that reaps US$20 billion in export per year.

“And now, the same supermarket chain is selling the same product for the second time. This is unacceptable," Zain said.

He urged the authorities to take action against the importer and retailers of the product before such smear campaigns spread more lies and incite mindless hatred towards the nation’s palm oil industry.

“We cannot and must not condone anyone telling and spreading lies about the oil palm, our national economic security crop. 

"Harsh punishment must be imposed on this recalcitrant culprit and action must be taken immediately,” he said.

The NST was told that members of the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association would meet to deliberate the case and announce their stand this Friday.

Sarawak Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing hit out at the supermarket here, which has been found selling a product with misleading labels and stickers discrediting the nation’s palm oil industry.

Masing warned the supermarket chain to immediately remove the offending product from its shelves or face action.

“Withdraw the product or I will ask the enforcement authorities to confiscate every unit sold at your premises,” he said during a press conference at his house here yesterday.

Masing showed the media three units of the product, which was imported from Australia. “This should not happen, especially here. It is clear that this (the product) is not a campaign to save the orang utans, but coveted smear tactics by competitors.”

He identified the competitors as Australian rapeseed producers hiding behind the green camouflage of Australian Zoos supposedly lobbying to "rescue orang utans" from oil palm planters who are wrongly blamed as "cruel and greedy". 

In reality, these false allegations aimed at oil palm planters by unscrupulous quarters is downright ruthless and sinful.

"I do not expect supermarkets in Malaysia to be in cahoots with this kind of thing. This supermarket chain should have been more responsible. It is not wise for this supermarket chain to sell out Malaysia's interest for its own selfish greed," the minister said. 

It is wrong for the cleaning product manufacturer to associate orang utans’ habitats with oil palm plantations since the Sarawak government had already set up wildlife sanctuaries for conservation.

"In Sarawak, we have one million hectares of totally protected areas and out of this 22 per cent or 218,000ha are for orang utans. In fact, in Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary the population of orang utans has increased to 5,000 now," he said.

“This is an act of sabotage of our palm oil industry. Palm oil exports is critical to our people and contributes some US$2.5 billion annually for Sarawak,” he said.

Sarawak Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Department enforcement chief Abdul Hafidz Abdul Rahim said he will deploy his team to various outlets of that supermarket chain. “We will need to verify these claims before taking action.”

It was learnt that police could probe the supermarket chain operator under Section 501 and 502 of the Penal Code for the sale of printed or engraved matters known to be defamatory, if there was a report lodged over the sale of the products.

“For now, we have yet to receive any official complaint on the sale of the product with the negative labelling,” Hafidz said.