Indonesia, Malaysia launch joint move to defend palm oil industry
The Jakarta Post, Medan
Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to allocate 500,000 euro (about US$394,000) to pay the fees of a consultant or joint spokesman to counter campaigns launched by non-governmental organizations against palm oil production in the two countries.
The agreement was signed Tuesday in Medan, North Sumatra, by Indonesian Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyanto and Malaysian Plantation and Commodity Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui.
Anton said as quoted by Antara that the deal to appoint an international consultant or spokesman for all matters related to Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil production was triggered by what he said were unfounded accusations made by several foreign and local NGOs over the past few years.
He said the NGOs had claimed that palm oil plantations damaged the environment and contributed to the destruction of the two countries' remaining natural forests.
Some NGOs also claimed that products made from crude palm oil (CPO) were hazardous to people's health as they contained high levels of fat and synthetic coloring.
"Those accusations, most of which aren't true, are very distressing. As the biggest producers of palm oil in the world, Indonesia and Malaysia feel that something has to be done to counter them so that we can avoid disruption to the palm oil trade," Anton said.
In previous years, the two countries had acted on an individual basis in countering the adverse publicity against the palm oil industry, but it was now felt that these efforts had been inadequate.
Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui said that it would be best for the two countries to launch a join effort, considering the emergence of increased competition in the global vegetable oil trade.
Both countries also agreed to tighten monitoring of land clearance for new oil palm plantations using burning.
The aim here was to minimize the damage to forests and to avoid bad international publicity.
"In relation to the haze problem, we have agreed to apply the Zero Burning policy much more strongly against those involved in the palm oil business, especially the planters and growers," Anton said.
He also said that Indonesia had enacted Law No.18/2004, which banned land clearance through burning.
A report from the World Health Organization states that there is strong evidence that palm oil consumption contributes to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, other studies suggest the opposite.
For example, a study by a group of researchers in China in 1995 comparing palm, soybean and peanut oils and lard showed that palm oil actually increased the level of good cholesterol and reduced the level of bad cholesterol in the blood.
Meanwhile, a study by a renowned expert in the field, Gerard Hornstra, as well as many recent reports in scientific journals, produced similar results.