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NST Leader: Of palm oil and boycott peddlers

May 6, 2024


CALL it audacity on steroids. How else would you tag the peddling of anti-palm oil products in oil palm-rich Malaysia? Such brazenness came to light on Thursday when a convenience store was caught retailing products bearing the “No palm oil” (NPO) label in Putrajaya, the home of enforcers.

How long the store has been doing it is anybody’s guess. But Putrajaya isn’t the only place where NPO gall happens. The whole country is a NPO product peddlers’ paradise, with big-brand supermarkets being among those retailing them with a catch-me-if-you-can challenge to enforcement agencies.

This is unacceptable behaviour given the critical contribution of the palm oil industry to the country, a sentiment expressed by Plantations and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani on Friday following the Putrajaya raid.

Nearly a million employees depend on the success of the industry for their survival. So do thousands of smallholders and supply chain operators.

Here’s the context. Malaysia is, after Indonesia, the second-largest producer of palm oil in the world. The two countries produce close to 90 per cent of the world’s palm oil. Oil palm is a yield beater compared with soyabean, rapeseed or sunflower.

It produces up to 10 times more oil per hectare. Using less land but producing more, oil palm has been the envy of soybean, rapeseed and sunflower farmers. Palm oil is in almost everything: pizza, chocolate, margarine, ice cream, shampoos, deodorants and everything in between. The three vegetable oil producers’ envy has grown into an aggressive palm oil boycott.

NPO is just one munition in the vast arsenal of their propaganda campaign. In the early years of the multi-million euro propaganda campaign, palm oil was painted as bad for health.

Op-eds, news analyses and papers published in “science” journals were selling the idea with a vengeance. When nutritional science put to bed these false claims, the propagandists pushed the story of disappearing orangutans.

After this short-lived narrative, it is now deforestation and climate change.

Coming fresh out of the biofuel battle with the European Union in the World Trade Organisation, Putrajaya is only too aware of how toxic the aggressive boycott can get.

Discriminatory laws based on false science isn’t a coincidence. According to Johari, the government last year spent RM70 million battling the anti-palm oil campaign abroad. This is not counting the cost of the boycott campaign to the industry and the country’s economy.

Malaysian importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers must not choose to be part of the palm oil boycott campaign. If they are found to have chosen to do so, then they must be made to pay a heavy price.

Sorry must be made to be the hardest word. Otherwise, it will become a trend to apologise and escape, as it has become of late. The law is clear: RM250,000 or five years in jail or both. Fine and jail them, we say.

Destruction of livelihood and the economy aren’t small sins. One more thing. We may have spent too much time battling boycotts overseas and much less at home. Time to start. And the oil palm industry must help the government to help itself.

Source : NST