Today, representatives from the Malaysian palm oil industry appeared before a public hearing of the Australian House Standing Committee on Economics to provide testimony and answer questions regarding the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling – Palm Oil) Bill 2011. The delegation, appearing before the Committee to outline concerns and the implications of the legislation to the Malaysian palm oil industry, included: His Excellency Dato Salman Ahmad, High Commissioner of Malaysia; Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron, Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC); Dato’ Haji Aliasak Haji Ambia, President of the National Association of Small Holders (NASH); Mr Palaniappan, Senior Executive Director Group R&D, CEO, of the Federal Land and Development Authority’s (FELDA) Agriculture Services; and Mr Aknan, Undersecretary, Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.
The appearance follows a recent visit of officials from the Government of Malaysia and representatives of the Malaysian palm oil industry to Australia to correct the misrepresentations being made against the industry and advocate in support of mutually beneficial bilateral relations. Unfortunately, the legislation is a sharp reversal from years of increasingly liberalized trade between the two countries, and risks undermining a central pillar of the Malaysian economy.
In prepared testimony for the Committee, Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron, Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, stated that the legislation:
– Directly targets the Malaysian palm oil industry, which accounts for almost 100% of all palm exports to Australia, and which account for 9.3% of Malaysia’s GDP;
– Has been significantly expanded to include any food and non-food products containing or made with the use of palm oil or any of its by-products, making it no longer appropriate to be considered a “food labelling” bill;
– Overtly discriminates against palm oil. If the proposed legislation was open, direct and honest it would cover all vegetable oils – not just palm oil;
– Undermines bilateral relations between Australia and Malaysia by directly targeting the livelihoods of almost 1 million people in Malaysia, as noted by a letter delivered to the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur by the National Association of Small Holders (NASH);
– Violates several principles of the WTO as well as terms of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement;
– Will cost Australian consumers hundreds of millions of dollars due to the cost of changing labels being assessed at between AUD 5,000 and AUD 15,000 per product by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. The number of products affected runs into the thousands; and
– The Bill is the work of environmental NGO’s with the aim of gaining a monopoly on the control of the palm oil supply chain by promoting their own initiated certification scheme for sustainable palm oil.
Meanwhile, allegations of environmental degradation attributed to the palm oil industry are without merit:
– Zoos Victoria claim that the palm oil industry causes deforestation at a rate of 300 football fields every hour, without substantiation. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), deforestation in Malaysia has occurred at an average annual rate of 114,000 hectares – or less than one tenth the rate claimed by the Zoos Victoria and almost one fifth the rate of Australia’s deforestation;
– Claims are perhaps, hypocritical, as they ignore facts from the FAO that deforestation in Australia occurred at a rate of 562,000 hectares per annum – nearly five times Malaysia’s rate;
– Claims of the imminent extinction of the orang-utan are without merit and ignore efforts in Malaysia to preserve the lives and habitats of the country’s 16,000 orang-utans, through the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries, mega-wildlife preserves and rehabilitation centres for displaced orang-utans; and
– Labelling to discourage consumption of palm oil will directly undermine conservation efforts in Malaysia, such as the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund, which supports enforcement of environmental laws and establishment of sanctuaries and wildlife preserves.