PETALING JAYA, Malaysia – 19 April 2011 Dr Yusof Basiron, Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), gave testimony yesterday in Canberra before the Australian Senate Committee on Community Affairs on the mandatory labelling of palm oil proposed under the Truth in Labelling Palm Oil Bill of 2010.
Dr. Basiron’s testimony demonstrated the importance of palm oil to Malaysia’s economy and its commitment to sustainability and societal advancement, and corrected false allegations made against the industry by Western environmental non-governmental organizations.
In addition to providing testimony, Dr. Basiron answered questions from the Committee. Other Malaysian government and industry officials who participated in the hearing included His Excellency Salman Ahmad, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Australia; Carl Bek-Nielsen, United Plantations; and Vasco Sabat Singkang, Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA).
Despite palm oil’s superior efficiency as demonstrated by the high yields generated from oil palms, the industry continues to be criticised by environmental organizations. Malaysian palm oil is now a target of developed world legislators due to these environmental campaigns.
In advancing the mandatory labelling of palm oil in Australian products, supporters of the legislation are undermining a critical industry to Malaysia’s prosperity, imposing higher costs on Australian and Malaysian businesses, and subjecting Australian consumers to a higher cost of living.
Truth in labelling should be driven by health issues, not political expedience, which is behind some of the campaigns revolving around this Bill, Dr. Basiron said during his testimony.
It may make the adherents and supporters of Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund have a great degree of self satisfaction when sipping their skinny lattes, but to 570,000 Malaysians and their families there is no self satisfaction. All they see is a threat to the livelihoods, Dr. Basiron said.
Malaysia pledged at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to retain at least 50% of its total land area under forest and that plantation crops would only be permitted on the land set aside for agriculture. Malaysia has greatly exceeded this target considering that 56% of its land is still under forests.
The Malaysian Government wishes to stress again the importance of palm oil for the Malaysian economy and our efforts to alleviate poverty. Forty-three percent of oil palm plantations are owned by smallholders. Palm oil companies have invested significantly in schools, roads, water and hospitals for their workers. The palm oil industry directly employs over half a million Malaysians. Hundreds of thousands more rely on these incomes.
In addressing the NGO claims that oil palm plantations were a major threat to Orang-utans, Dr. Basiron said the proposed Australian labeling legislation would have no benefit for the environment, forests or Orang-utan populations of Malaysia.
It is, he said, unfortunate that the Orang-utans have been used, or more accurately misused, in this debate.
Our industry is not a rapacious destroyer of either forests or Orang-utans. We have been accused of this, we have been pilloried on it and it is totally inaccurate.
Orang-utans live in specific areas and in those areas sanctuaries have been established. For example the Sabah and Sarawak state governments have established protected sanctuaries of more than 220,000 hectares for orang-utans, he said.
Repeated claims made to the Committee that oil palm plantations destroyed the fertility of soils and that oil palms themselves had only limited life spans were dispelled by Carl Bek-Nielsen. He advised the committee that the first oil palms on plantations run by his company were planted in 1918 and now the fifth generation palms were thriving in the same soil.
Vasco Sabat Singkang stated how development of oil palm plantations had brought in much needed rural infrastructure, employment, better income, education and health and more importantly a more informed community which has tremendously improved the well-being of the rural community.
Concluding the opening statement, Dr. Basiron said: I wish to endorse the formal policy of the Australian Government and Department of Foreign Affairs to support economic development of countries in ASEAN and in APEC economies by facilitating and promoting economic growth, trade and investment.