THE commercial attack on palm oil and the labelling of “No Palm Oil” by manufacturers and local supermarkets must be viewed in the right legal context, and promptly too.
Competition in business is good not only for the market but also for the consumers. Competition must, therefore, be fair and healthy — this includes palm oil-based food products.
The position taken by the Primary Industries Ministry is a fair approach in addressing the unfair competition in the market relating to palm oil and food products. At present, there is no specific law that prohibits such food labelling by the private sector, comprising retailers and supermarket operators, that has been perceived to have caused biased perception of the local palm oil industry.
With a view to promote fair competition and balanced marketing, retailers and supermarket operators are reminded that when labelling any products, they are required to comply with the Trade Descriptions Act 2011 to avoid false or misleading statements in their advertisement and marketing practices pertaining to palm oil.
Besides compliance with the correct and proper food labeling provisions as specified in the Act, There is an overriding need to comply with the Consumer Protection Act 1999. It would be difficult for the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to prove “insulting food labelling”, “denigratory advertising”, or “negative labelling” of palm oil-based food products.
For instance, French supermarket Casino has argued that the “No Palm Oil” labels are not illegal, but it would be easier to prove unethical food labelling that misleads and confuses consumers under the Consumer Protection Act 1999 (together with Trade Descriptions Act 2011).
In the promotion of what is ethical and legally appropriate labelling, there is a need for the Malaysian Palm Oil Board to relook the Strategy and Palm Oil Action Plan 2019 in Malaysia, Europe and beyond.
Preventing unethical anti-palm oil labelling is a grave consideration for the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
On a wider platform, members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are reminded to be fair and not undermine sustainable palm oil production. A case in point is the Danish brand, Lurpak. Lurpak had a label on the back of the container that when peeled back, declared “Contains no palm”.
Ethical conduct in business pertaining to palm oil is a key requirement in the revised RSPO Principles and Criteria 2018 and reaffirmed in the 15th general assembly of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in November last year.