Malaysia States Case Against Australian Palm Oil Labelling Bill

CANBERRA: Malaysia raised its objection to Australia’s Truth in

Labelling-Palm Oil Bill yesterday, saying it is based on misleading

claims and aimed at harming its largest agricultural export – palm oil.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof

Basiron, who appeared at a public hearing together with other officials,

said the biggest impact of this bill will be to single out palm oil as

the only product in Australia to mandatorily be labelled for reasons

other than health or nutrition.

“It will also hinder the

Malaysian government’s attempts to utilise palm oil as a means for

alleviating poverty in our country,” he said at the consultation

regarding the Truth in Labelling – Palm Oil Bill here yesterday.

“I wish to object to this bill firstly because it seeks to classify

palm oil as a single generic product based on the environmental impact

of production methods without differentiating between country of

origin… this is extremely misleading and defeats the purpose of the

bill,” he said in a testimony to the Community Affairs Legislation

Committee.

Several questions on deforestation practices in Malaysia as well as

palm oil certification were raised by members of the committee, which

included independent senator Nick Xenophon, who moved for the bill in

late 2009.

The committee is due to report back to the parliament on June 16.

According to the bill, some of the principal issues include allowing

palm oil to be listed as a vegetable oil on food packaging, which is

considered misleading to Australian consumers.

The impact of

palm oil production on wildlife and sustainable production of palm oil

as well as the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), are also

the areas up for consideration under the bill.

Yusof, who is

also representing the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities,

said: “Truth in labelling should be driven by health issues, not

political expedience, which is behind some of the campaigns revolving

around this bill,” in reference to moves by Greenpeace and World

Wildlife Fund.

The bill and the campaign, which has been

associated with it, can potentially lead to a loss of jobs and the

livelihoods of some 570,000 Malaysians.

As pledged at the UN Rio

Earth Summit two decades ago to keep at least 50 per cent of its total

land area under forest, Malaysia has exceeded the target with 56 per

cent of its land under forests. For every hectare of oil palm, the

country preserves 4ha of permanent forest.

The Sabah and

Sarawak state governments have gazetted a number of forest areas known

to contain higher populations of orang-utans as wildlife sanctuaries,

national parks or forest reserves.

On the bill’s recommended use

of sustainable palm oil or CSPO marking to indicate sustainable oil as a

differentiating factor between countries or modes of production, Yusof

said it would be highly costly for smallholders.

Currently, 43 per cent of oil palm plantations are owned by smallholders.

Apart from Yusof, other Malaysian officials were High Commissioner

Datuk Salman Ahmad, Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen from United Plantations and

Datu Vasco Sabat Singkang of the Sarawak Land Consolidation and

Rehabilitation Authority.

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