It is now official – the “No Palm Oil” denigration campaign, undertaken by European opponents of palm oil, is illegal. The Belgian Court of Appeal in Brussels ruled last Friday that the Belgian supermarket Delhaize broke the law when it made wild and inaccurate allegations about Palm Oil, including on the labels of its own ‘Palm Oil Free’ product.
The Belgian Court stated that Delhaize’s allegations about Palm Oil were “unverifiable and therefore not objective” in relation to both environmental and health allegations. Delhaize must immediately cease and desist from making these illegal and unjust claims, on pain of serious financial penalties.
This court judgement is at once both wholly unsurprising, and totally unexpected. It is unsurprising because the decision made by the Court is so clearly and obviously accurate. The claims made about Palm Oil by “No Palm Oil” manufacturers and retailers – including Delhaize – are untrue, unjustified, and denigratory.
That has always been the case. Back in 2012, Palm Oil producers from the Cote d’Ivoire won a court case against French retailer Systeme U, forcing Systeme U to cease a similarly unjustifiable anti-palm oil campaign. In 2015, the major international law firm, Hogan Lovells, produced a memo outlining how No Palm Oil labels were illegal under multiple EU, French and Belgian laws, including –
- EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation (1169/2011)
- EU Directive on Food Labelling (2000/13/EC)
- EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC)
- Belgian Law on Market Practices (2010)
- French Commercial Code (Articles L450-1 & L450-4)
The Belgian Court has simply expressed in a legal judgement what experts have known for years to be true – the anti-Palm Oil campaign is denigratory and inaccurate.
Why, then, is this court judgement so totally unexpected, and out-of-the-blue?
The reason is because European authorities – governments, regulators, and courts – have refused for several years to enforce their own laws. ‘No Palm Oil’ campaigns have been allowed to continue, unchecked, despite the clear violation of European laws. Authorities in France – such as DGCCRF, in charge of addressing consumer fraud – are well aware of the issue, but refuse to enforce the law or censure the offending companies. In Belgium and Italy, the situation is the same. In Brussels, the European Commission sits on its hands and allows consumers to be misled by untrue and denigratory advertising by Delhaize, Systeme U and others.
Why? There is a simple explanation. Because the No Palm Oil labels, in common with other European anti-Palm Oil efforts, benefit European industries.
Now, however, the Belgian Court has finally made it clear that the Emperor has no clothes. There is no longer any excuse for EU Governments, regulators or officials to allow No Palm Oil labels to continue with impunity. Doing so would be an open admission that those countries have in place a policy to deliberately discriminate against products from Malaysia, and to deliberately harm Malaysian exports – even when they are aware that this is illegal.
Will France, Italy, and others, now properly enforce the law? Will other Belgian companies fall into line? Or will legality go the same way as truth: discarded by Europe so that it can continue the protectionist and discriminatory campaign against Palm Oil?