The Oil Palm The Oil Palm

Swiss Journalism on Palm Oil is Full of Holes

A documentary on Swiss television show Rundschau, purporting to claim that Swiss farmers should switch away from using Palm Oil in animal feed, has quickly been debunked as ‘fake news’, as it emerges that the proposal would substantially harm both Swiss farmers and consumers.

Rundschau claims that the use of Palm Oil is ‘embarrassing’ and quoted trade union officials calling for Palm Oil use to be ‘stopped’. However, there are multiple problems with the documentary itself, and the claims following from it.

First – using Palm Oil as an ingredient in animal feed is legal, normal, and part of the free choice of farmers in an open marketplace. Many farmers – in Switzerland and elsewhere – choose animal feed that contains Palm Oil. Why? It’s a superior product, at a more competitive price. If Rundschau does not like that, then perhaps market economics are not for them.

Second, the environmental claims made about Palm Oil have been thoroughly debunked many times over. Malaysia is not deforesting: on the contrary, the United Nations’ official figures show that Malaysian forest area is increasing as the country demonstrates its commitment to forest protection. It is a poor, and lazy, form of ‘journalism’ that overlooks such an obvious and publicly-available fact.

Third, it has emerged that the proposal to eliminate Palm Oil would have an immediate negative impact on pretty much the entire food supply chain in Switzerland. According to the website Swissinfo, replacing Palm Oil with rapeseed oil would cost Swiss farmers over $1m annually. Why? Because Palm Oil is more efficient and more productive than rapeseed – therefore, it is more price-competitive. It is also better for cows’ digestion, according to supply-chain experts. Understandably, farmers are not keen to jettison an efficient, healthy, low-cost oil for an unproven, higher-cost alternative.

Fourth, if costs rise, that means that prices will rise. Not only is Rundschau’s proposal harming the pockets of farmers, but it’s proposing to increase food prices across the country as well. Again, a basic rule of market economics that seems to have escaped the attention of the journalists.

The economic and environmental folly of replacing Palm Oil is clear. Why, then, would it even be proposed? This is not the first time that ideologues in Switzerland have tried this lobbying effort: both local Swiss governments and protectionist industry have attempted this before, without success. The latest effort should meet the same fate.

So, to summarise, the Swiss journalists’ ‘investigation’ has proposed a policy that would raise costs for Swiss farmers; raise prices for Swiss consumers; harm the welfare of Swiss cows; and give Swiss money to wealthy European landowners, instead of Malaysian small farmers.

It’s probably best if the Swiss stick to chocolate and watches, and leave the investigative journalism to someone else.