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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily on November 19, 2018

Christmas, for the UK’s supermarket chain, Iceland, is being welcomed with a major campaign discriminating against palm oil. Craftily partnering Greenpeace they have leveraged the “Rang-Tan” video as an Iceland supermarket promotional gimmick against palm oil. Their stated goal — to have this advertorial extensively played on UK commercial television networks.

Clearcast, the British commercial television networks’ advertising watchdog, ruled the Iceland-Greenpeace video clip was in breach of the UK Advertising Codes, contravened the prohibition on political advertising. In this case it was clearly against the oil palm small farmers in producing nations.

As the minister responsible for the overall Malaysian palm oil industry, I welcome this decision from Clearcast despite the intense online anti-palm oil campaign. We welcome the debate on palm oil but insist that we too must be given a desirable platform to challenge the discriminatory and unsubstantiated accusations.

Iceland’s Richard Walker states they are not anti-palm oil but are against deforestation. This we find rather comical since he withdrew palm oil from his in-house branded products, which we must assume had dismal sales. He is not prepared to do the same against other more well-established brands that contained palm oil as part of its formulations. His grilling by Piers Morgan in a separate interview was an eye opener; Piers Morgan was better equipped with verified facts on palm oil. The combative attitude of the Iceland-Greenpeace collaboration is despicable, lacking credible facts.

Malaysia increasingly subscribes to Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and has voluntarily adopted internationally accredited sustainability standards. In addition, Malaysia has mandated certification of all its palm oil supply chain by December 2019 through the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard. When January 2020 Amsterdam Declaration kicks in, all palm oil exports to UK and Europe will be certified palm oil. Our question is whether British and European entities will willingly pay the premiums for CSPO.

These certification systems already demand and extract a “No Deforestation” principle, which is now increasingly adhered to by palm oil producers. The Malaysian government is moving strongly towards better environmental control and I personally made a declaration that no new forest lands would be converted into plantations. Factor this to our forest statistics. We pledged at the Rio Earth Summit 1992, and still maintain at least 50% forest cover. Britain and Europe do not have similar forest retention commitments nor forested areas.

Iceland and Greenpeace conveniently ignored these facts. They tugged on emotional heartstrings using orangutan and claimed 25 of these magnificent animals are dying daily because of palm oil. Blatant lies! We dare them to produce evidence in Malaysia for this claim. Come debate this openly with our wildlife authorities. Malaysians are not stupid or ready to sacrifice our orangutan, our own God-given heritage.

Today the orangutan, native to Sabah and Sarawak, are fully protected and we have stable population numbers. Efforts to conserve these magnificent species are well advanced and generating desired results. What better endorsement for our orangutan conservation efforts than the recent announcement from the chairperson of the UK Orang Utan Appeal, Sue Sherwood, when they pledged supportive funding of RM1 million (US$250,000) towards our special conservation team, the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit, that is fully funded by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. While Iceland and Greenpeace blare their horns and shamelessly assume a combative stance against palm oil, they have ignored contributing towards orangutan conservation although funding is much needed.

Iceland supermarket’s actions, unfortunately are not isolated. The palm oil industry has been targeted repeatedly through such neo-colonialism efforts. We have produced higher quantities of CSPO but sadly the uptake from British and European entities is far less than previously promised. We find that there is a constant deferment of their commitment dates. As a result, producers including smallholders are questioning the overall rationality of CSPO.

Iceland is one of those entities who find it easier to announce a ban on palm oil products rather than commit to sustainable palm oil and go the full mile of explaining the benefits to their customers. To stoop so low during the Christmas shopping spree is really saddening, especially when the livelihood of our small farmers is negatively impacted. This must stop. Even according to Morgan, other edible oil commodities flaunted as substitutes for palm oil could in fact be more damaging to the environment.

Overall, I call for an end to this confrontational stance not only from Iceland but others, against palm oil that feeds billion around the globe at a very affordable price. We need to come together and debate and resolve all differences based on facts and not emotions. Malaysia’s current environmental commitments, sparked by our new government and its actions, will speak for the well-being of all our futures.


Teresa Kok
Minister of Primary Industries,
November 18, 2018

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