04.11.2019 (Mashable SE Asia) - Malaysia loves its palm oil. The Southeast Asian country loves its number one commodity so much so that has even become possessive in recent months.
In a move that can be considered absurd and baffling to some, the Malaysian government recently greenlit a ban on any products that display "no palm oil" or "palm oil-free" labels.
If you're scratching your head, you're not alone.
Move to ban palm oil-free products?
The Malaysian Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry is now in the midst of engaging various stakeholders in the business to create a law that makes its proposal for the ban legal.
“This proposal was brought to the Cabinet on October 18 and agreed upon by the members. This move is also in line with the government’s objective of supporting the palm oil industry via the Sayangi Sawitku (Love My Palm Oil) campaign,” Malaysian Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Saifuddin Nasution said.
Apparently 12 products with the labels "palm oil-free" and "does not contain palm oil" have been forced to be removed from shelves nationwide.
Palm oil is Malaysia's major agri-commodity export with India being its biggest client. The country is projecting more than US$5 billion of revenue in 2019 from this business.
However, India has shown a keen interest in engaging Malaysia's rival in palm oil, Indonesia, thanks to a recent diplomatic tiff between both nations.
According to the Malaysian government, majority of these labels are "marketing gimmicks" by European manufacturers who're looking to cast a negative light on the Southeast Asian country.
Malaysia's Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok gave the example of a peanut butter brand that had the label "palm oil-free" even though the commodity is not a commonly used ingredient.
“Why do you need to specify there’s no palm oil here? The negative perception and claims are untrue and gives a bad impression of palm oil-based products without being supported by scientific evidence,” Kok said, adding that these allegations must be put to the sword.
The move to ban these products, according to Kok, was inspired by Indonesia who also does the same in banning food products with such labels.
Isn't palm oil dangerous?
It is. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Orangutan population, specifically in the Malaysian state of Sabah, is down by 30%. It is largely thanks to deforestation courtesy of palm oil.
In fact, between 2000 to 2012, a whopping 14.4% of forests - an area larger than Denmark - were cleared, according to Google.
However, according to the Malaysian government, the sentiment that palm oil is dangerous to the environment is a propaganda.
Kok had explained that through the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification, wildlife conservation is being supported for 10 years.
In June, 2019, an international school found itself in trouble with the Malaysian government after it had staged an environment-themed performance.
In a 10-second video clip of the show which was uploaded to YouTube, children could be seen performing in a play concerning issues surrounding palm oil. This led the Malaysian Education Ministry to investigate.
In October, the same school was brought to a palm oil plantation for a site visit where the children were shown some of the sustainable practices in the industry.
Everything said, the golden question still remains: Is palm oil dangerous or is it just a propaganda?