1/28/2005 MANILA STANDARD - The coconut oil industry is incensed. "It istime to correct the lies perpetuated by the US soybean industry thatsaturated fats, which include coconut oil, are a threat to consumerhealth," declared the Philippine Coconut Producers Association Inc.(PCOPA).
PCOPA says unfair competition by US soybean oil manufacturers has alreadyhurt 70,000 coconut farmers and cost the Philippine economy $1.4 billionin lost revenues over the last 20 years.
The latest "soy attack" began on June 18, 2004, with a letter supposedlycirculated by the American Soybean Association (ASA) trying to convinceAmerican food manufacturers not to use tropical oils, including coconutoil, in their products.
"We urge you to carefully consider the consequences of raising the levelof heart-unhealthy fats as a solution to the trans fats issue. While thismay appear economically attractive, increasing the overall level ofunhealthy fats in food products is certain to raise nutrition concernsamong the health community and ultimately consumers," the letter says.
Not so, says PCOPA: "The notion that saturated fat (an essentialingredient of coconut oil) is a health risk was debunked long ago byscientific studies. Despite these, American soybean companies continue tospread these false claims that coconut oil is a bad oil."
As a remedy, coconut oil producers will seek help from the PhilippineCoconut Authority (PCA) and the Department of Agriculture to file acomplaint against the US soybean oil industry.
Government officials acknowledge the importance of keeping the coconut oilindustry healthy. PCA says coconut oil is the country's top farm export,earning $573.736 million in 2004. A fourth of the population relies oncoconut for their livelihood.
Despite these high stakes, the government seems unable to do much exceptpromise to file a protest with Washington.
PCOPA, for its part, will launch a "massive information campaign" butoffers no details on how it hopes to outmaneuver the powerful ASA on itshome turf.
An information campaign based in the Philippines is pointless because weneed to take the message to US companies and consumers. That ultimatelymeans a sustained - and expensive - advertising campaign.
Do coconut oil producers have the resources to fight such a battle? Sadly,PCOPA doesn't even have a decent Web site.
We sympathize with local coconut oil producers but they need a betterplan. They need to mobilize resources to win. And government needs to helpthem in a much bigger way.