European Parliament’s Skewed View of Palm Oil

Yesterday in Strasbourg, France, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted through the report on Palm Oil & Deforestation. The report received a massive majority vote in favour. As a reminder, the text that MEPs supported calls for tariffs and non-tariff barriers against Palm Oil; unilateral EU interference in Palm Oil certification; and the banning of all Palm Oil biofuels in Europe, among other such impositions.

Ahead of the vote, a debate was held amongst MEPs on Monday evening. Dozens of MEPs made speeches about Palm Oil – but one thing can be said for sure. Serious policy making was sadly missing throughout the debate.

Worse than that, a sentiment hung strongly in the air: the EU wants total control over Palm Oil.  Some MEPs were explicit about this desire for control: MEP Benedikt Javor said that a mandatory EU certification scheme is required; MEP Bas Eickhout called for the EU to use its market strength as a bargaining chip to force actions on producer countries; MEP Anja Hazencamp threatened to ban Palm Oil imports altogether.

Many others supported these sentiments. MEP Eleonora Evi described Palm Oil as “unethical”; MEP Tiziana Beghin labelled Palm Oil a “dangerous product”; MEP Elizabeth Kostinger called for Palm Oil to be replaced with other products. MEP Katerina Konecna, the author of the report, was restrained, possibly feeling the effects of considered response to her wildly inaccurate claims, but her views are plain to read in the report itself, where Palm Oil is attacked repeatedly, without any basis in fact.

Not all interventions were hostile. MEP Alberto Cirio of Italy recognized Malaysia’s work on environment, and called for respect for producer countries. MEP Julie Girling noted that demonizing Palm Oil is a mistake – and she distanced herself from the extreme remarks of some of her MEP colleagues.

What does this debate, and vote, mean?

The principle of cooperation seems to have disappeared from view. The commitment of producer countries to sustainability – through MSPO, for example – was dismissed and ignored by MEPs speaking in the debate. The importance of oil palm cultivation for millions of poor farmers throughout Africa and Asia was also dismissed and ignored. Malaysia’s commitment to forest protection – over 56 per cent of forest area protected and way above any European country – was also dismissed and ignored.

One MEP speaking in the Parliament even suggested that the Netherlands should take responsibility for Indonesia, certainly referring to their colonial past (or present?).

What will happen now?

Only 12 months has passed since MEP Konecna held her first Hearing on Palm Oil. This week, her final Report on Palm Oil & Deforestation was passed by the Parliament. The European Commission is currently preparing a study to investigate Palm Oil certification schemes. MEPs have also called for a Palm Oil Action Plan to be prepared by the EU.

If the following 12 months move in the same negative direction as the previous 12 months, the threats made by MEPs could move closer to reality. A unilateral, EU-imposed certification scheme. Tariffs and non-tariff barriers on Palm Oil imports. Banning of all Palm Oil biofuels. All of these are recommendations of this European Parliament report. There will be pressure inside Brussels, and much external pressure exerted on the EU, to make these into a reality.

Finally, it’s important to return to the specific allegations made in Monday’s debate. MEP Paul Brannen had clearly read a letter signed by several producing countries, which outlined myths and facts about Palm Oil production, and urged MEPs to think again based on the facts. Mr Brannen devoted much of his speech to claiming the producer countries were misleading the European Parliament.

It’s time to fact check Mr Brannen.

 

  • Myth: Palm Oil is a major cause of deforestation.
  • Fact: The EU’s own research shows Palm Oil far behind other commodities, with at-worst a 2.5 per cent impact on global deforestation. Soy, maize, beef and others all score worse.

 

  • Myth: Palm Oil is a worse feedstock for biodiesel, compared to others.
  • Fact: Palm Oil is more land-efficient that any other vegetable oil biofuel feedstock. It has a smaller environmental footprint, and uses less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and less land.

 

  • Myth: Palm oil producer countries do not care about the environment.
  • Fact: According to the U.N.’s official Forest Assessment Report, Malaysia’s forest area is increasing, and stands at over 56 per cent of land area. This track record of forest protection, and development, is unmatched by any EU country.
  • Myth: The EU must impose a certification scheme, to avoid confusing consumers with multiple schemes (as highlighted in the Parliamentary debate).
  • Fact: Single schemes, with plans to cover all Palm Oil produced in a particular country, exist already. Malaysia’s MSPO scheme is a certification scheme that can comprehensively cover all Malaysian exports to the EU. Ignoring Malaysia’s national development priorities and laws to impose a unilateral standard is over-reach, which is often the case with Environmentalism in Europe. Recognition is a better way to approach the issue.
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