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Unfriendly labelling on goods
Published on: Friday, September 23, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: The unsavoury and potentially illegal "No Palm Oil" label on products has landed in Sabah, where the oil palm industry is an important economic sector.

While it is still unclear if the labelling infringes any provision in Malaysia's food laws, a legal analysis by a Brussels-based law firm found that the label, common in particularly Belgium and France, breaches the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulations (FIC).

FIC, which came into force in December 2014, among others stipulates that all food labels must specifically state the source of its vegetable oils.

The analysis also found that the "No Palm Oil" label is also against domestic laws in France and Belgium, as well as laws on unfair competition, health claims and others.

"It is a big irony that products with the 'No Palm Oil' label are allowed here. We should reject any denigrating of this important product which some of us consume every day in one way or another," said Sabah adviser to the England-based Orangutan Appeal UK, Datuk Mike Steel.

The oil palm sector contributes between RM60 billion and RM80 billion a year to the national revenue.

In Sabah, which is the nation's biggest producer, revenue from oil palm is among the top-earners besides providing tens of thousands of jobs and sustaining thousands of small holders.

A survey around supermarkets here found a variety of imported products with the label, including the Emco Musli, a Czech product imported by a company based in Selangor.

Visiting Europe in 2014, former Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Seri Douglas Unggah Embas had described the label as "discriminatory, unfair and baseless", and urged the French and Belgian governments to stop it because it portrayed palm oil negatively.

"We have no issues with FIC, as long as it is practised in the form of positive labelling," he said, adding that there was also concern about palm oil being singled out for its alleged negative impacts on consumer health.

"Our research shows that palm oil has an equal balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, which provide the oil with high oxidative stability, and unique functional properties required in the formulation of many food products," he said.

The EU accounts for 15.1 per cent of Malaysia's global export of palm oil and palm-based product and is the second largest export destination in 2013 after China.

The government-sponsored Malaysia Palm Oil Council (MPOC) is on the forefront of a global campaign to correct perceptions and counter anti-palm oil lobbies, some of which are funded by producers of other important edible oils such as soybean and rapeseed.

Among other accusations, oil palm cultivation has been blamed for rainforest destruction, human rights abuse, wildlife smuggling and habitat destruction, climate change and environmental damages.

Malaysia is a subscriber of the multi-stakeholder Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the custodian of a strict set of rules governing the production of sustainable palm oil.

It also has in addition the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MPSO) code to encourage ethical palm oil production to satisfy global demands.

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