KUALA LUMPUR, 11 September 2009 – In response to the judgment by the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the self-appointed watchdog of the UK advertising industry, Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr. Yusof Basiron issued the following statement:
“The ASA has ruled that an advertorial in The Economist highlighting the economic importance and environmental sustainability of Malaysian Palm Oil should not appear in any other UK media outlets. The ruling followed a complaint by Friends of the Earth about the advertorial. By censoring our message, this group is blocking the entire British public’s access to a diverse range of views and information about Palm Oil.
“Consumers have a right to have information about the various products and services available to them and a right to determine for themselves which they want. Consequently, we are deeply concerned that the ASA is acting as an interested party in the public debate on palm oil rather than as a neutral and objective arbiter.”
Dr. Yusof said it was low income consumers in Britain and the poor in the developing world who would suffer as a consequence of the ASA ruling. Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil available to European consumers, and the growth of the industry in Malaysia and other developing countries has been a major driver in the reduction of poverty.
“Friends of the Earth objected to statements that the Malaysian Palm Oil industry played a major role in reducing poverty in Malaysia, that is was more sustainable than other vegetable oil products, and that producers in Malaysia promoted and were using an independent quality system that verified the oil was sustainably produced,” said Dr. Yusof.
“Yet when the Council provided concrete evidence which supported all those statements, including verification of sustainability by an organization sponsored by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the ASA chose to set them aside and decided to censor the claims for which incontrovertible substantiation had been provided,” said Dr. Yusof.
Dr. Yusof said that Friends of the Earth had run a scurrilous campaign in Europe against palm oil with allegations that could not be substantiated. According to Dr. Yusof, the Advertising Standards Authority decided to give undue weight to these unfounded claims from Friends of the Earth. “Rather than conducting its own independent and objective review of the facts, the ASA relied heavily on the propaganda provided by Friends of the Earth,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the campaign by Friends of the Earth – and now the ASA – has serious unintended consequences in the developing world,” added Dr. Yusof. “Palm Oil has lifted thousands out of poverty in Malaysia and elsewhere and helped us diversify our economy away from crops such as rubber and rice. Attacking Palm Oil hampers economic growth and harms the poor.”
Dr. Yusof also pointed out that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council had formally objected in writing to the fairness of the process and procedures of the ASA. The ASA asked the Council for reactions to a set of complaints. It provided them, but rather than making its ruling, the ASA then furnished additional complaints – at the urging of Friends of the Earth – and sought responses, and did this not once, but twice.
“It is regrettable but true that groups like Friends of the Earth do not care about the effect on the poor of environmental measures that restrict economic growth,” said Dr. Yusof. “It’s unfortunate the ASA has agreed with the viewpoint of Friends of the Earth.”