Setting the Record Straight on Australia’s Fake News SBS

Australia’s Special Broadcast Service (SBS) has attempted to “clear the air” for palm sugar consumers, by drawing a hard line between Palm Oil and palm sugar, and the differences in the production of each commodity. The author clearly took a pre-existing assumption – that all Palm Oil is bad – and then wrote an article trying to justify that incorrect assumption. The article contains a number of errors, and is misleading consumers and harming Malaysian small farmers by spreading untruths.

Firstly, SBS suggests that simply seeing the word “palm” will turn consumers away. If this were true, why is Australian consumption of Palm Oil rising?

SBS is too concerned with promoting untruths and fails to convey the benefits of Palm Oil for Malaysian small farmers, and its long history of sustainability practices. SBS should amend the article to reflect the facts. SBS might start by correcting the following…

SBS: “[Palm Oil] production has left the industry in crisis.”

Wrong. The industry is not “in crisis”. Palm Oil is the most used vegetable oil, globally. The Palm Oil industry continues to be an economic driver for Malaysia. Furthermore, the industry is beneficial to European economies, too. A Copenhagen Economics report detailed the benefits of Palm Oil to European countries. 354,000 EU jobs are dependent on the Palm Oil industry.

SBS: “Local communities have lost access to land and resources…”

Doubly wrong. Local Malaysian communities are benefiting from oil palm cultivation. Small farmer and cooperative land programs in Malaysia gave land to local communities in the 1970s to plant oil palm. The programs lifted one million people out of poverty.

Palm Oil has proven to be the most successful poverty alleviator amongst rural Malaysian families. Today, over 650,000 small farmers are able to make a living from oil palm cultivation and provide for their families. The “Malaysian Model” is now emulated across the developing world.

In Malaysia, forest area accounts for over 50 per cent of its land area. This is far more impressive than the forest area of Australia. Australian forest area clocks in at 16 percent – data confirmed by the World Bank. The FAO reports that between 1990 and 2015, Malaysia’s forest area dropped by 181,000ha; by way of comparison Australia’s dropped by 3,790,000ha.

On a broader scale, the total forest area in Malaysia is nearly equal to the entire land area of the United Kingdom. Roughly 23 per cent of Malaysia’s forest is classified as ‘primary forest’. Many developed countries, including France and Germany, have no primary forest.

It is hypocritical and shameful for countries to suggest Palm Oil is a leading contributor to deforestation, when Malaysia forest area is nearly triple that of its critics.

SBS: “Exploitation of workers is systemic”

Absolutely false. ‘Exploitation’ is not systemic – quite the opposite. A Malaysian government investigation into labour practices said precisely that. SBS should fact check its sources before publishing such basic lies.

SBS: “Unlike Palm Oil, palm sugar is naturally produced in a sustainable, eco-friendly way.”

This is incredibly misleading. It is a basic fact that oil palms are not cut down as the author implies; their fruit is harvested and oil palms stay standing for 25 years or more. Longer than any comparable oilseed crop.

Palm Oil leads sustainability certification criteria, as determined by the Sustainability Standards Initiative report published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

Palm Oil’s overall contribution to global deforestation is low. This is a fact that the media, Green campaigners and NGOs conveniently opt to forget. The EU report cited in the article points out that the deforestation caused by beef is ten times higher than palm, and that soybean is double. Even maize is higher.

The facts are clear. It is clear that Palm Oil is leading standards in the global agricultural community, and it is other crops that ought to be criticised for such an environmental “faux-pas”.

Before rushing to judgement against this miracle crop, SBS would be wise to tune in to Malaysia and its small farmers. Malaysia small farmers will continue to stand up against the smear campaigns taken against their livelihood.

It’s unfortunate this article contains numerous errors and lazy assumptions. Any article of this sort – which attempts to clarify an issue – ought to be meticulously fact-checked and edited. In this case, SBS editors are best to take a red pen to this article, and clarify the many untruths.