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KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 -- As the world’s largest palm oil producers, Malaysia and Indonesia must be active players in the standards-setting process for the European Union’s (EU) international sustainability standards, said two top officials of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).
Its chief executive officer Datuk Dr Kalyana Sundram, in an editorial written jointly with MPOC Europe regional manager Uthaya Kumar, noted that the EU intended to to lead the work on international sustainability standards and environmental footprint calculation methods in multilateral fora to promote a higher uptake of sustainability standards.
This is part of its approach to food information to consumers, which is reflected in the European Commission’s plan to publish a proposal in 2024 for a sustainable food-labelling framework that covers the nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects of food products.
“While the palm oil sector should generally view cautiously a framework on ‘environmental green claims’ framed within, and complementing, the general EU regulatory framework on misleading advertising and labelling, it must be given assurances that green claims are accurate, verifiable, relevant, able to be substantiated and not misleading,” Kalyana and Uthaya wrote in MPOC’s official publication, Journal of Oil Palm, Environment & Health.
Their article titled “The EU’s F2F and Biodiversity Strategies – Serious Implications for Palm Oil Ahead” analysed the EU’s EU Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the possible implications that specific measures under both strategies are poised to have on palm oil, as well as on food products containing palm oil.
To recap, as part of the European Green Deal initiative, the European Commission on May 20 presented the F2F Strategy aimed at making the entire food chain, from production to consumption, “more sustainable and neutral in its impact on the environment.”
The EU announced in the F2F Strategy that it intended to promote the global transition to sustainable food systems in international standard-setting bodies, relevant multilateral fora and international events.
Kalyana and Uthaya said the commission stated in the F2F Strategy that it would support “enforcement of rules on misleading information.”
“Enforcement of such rules is indeed needed, as the proliferation in the EU in recent years of ‘no palm oil’ campaigns and ‘palm oil-free’ labels is tragic testimony,” they said.
On the F2F measures, they opined that most relevant for palm oil production appeared to be a proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems, which the commission planned to publish before the end of 2023.
“Along the lines of what happened with biofuels, it looks like the EU will once again move ahead with a unilateral approach to define sustainable food systems and sustainable foods,” they said.
For 2021, the European Commission is preparing several initiatives, one of which is to improve the corporate governance framework, including the requirement for the food industry to integrate the issue of sustainability into corporate strategies.
Kalyana and Uthaya said the palm oil sector would welcome another initiative scheduled for next year, the development of an EU Code of Conduct for responsible business and marketing practices.
They said this was especially if it were to prevent misleading marketing campaigns such as the use of “no palm oil” claims as disguised sustainability claims.
Next year, the commission also aims to present a legislative proposal and other measures to avoid or minimise the placing of products associated with deforestation or forest degradation on the EU market, and to promote forest-friendly imports and value chains.
“As good examples of EU policies to improve supply chain transparency, the commission referred to the EU Timber Regulation laying down obligations for operators that place timber and timber products on the market, and, in a clear hint towards palm oil, to the EU’s Food Information Regulation, which allows to distinguish the various vegetable oils contained in products,” the MPOC officials said.
The duo suggested that on the issues of deforestation and forest degradation, no unilateral approach and actions should be taken.
“The EU should cooperatively and genuinely work in partnership with countries like Malaysia, in the many diplomatic, commercial and technical fora available, in order to define and adopt bilateral, plurilateral or multilateral standards and solutions for sustainable forestry and agricultural production compliance,” they said.
Kalyana and Uthaya said some measures to be proposed by the EU in the coming years following-up on the F2F and Biodiversity Strategies could have significant implications for palm oil.
“The palm oil sector and palm oil producing countries should carefully assess the different initiatives and engage with the EU, including in all forthcoming consultations.
“As a palm oil producer nation, dependent upon export volumes and revenues to sustain the well-being of our industry, we cannot afford to be on the side-lines and instead would require a strong and well informed team to articulate our rights of co-existence,” they stressed.
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