A New French Paradox and Palm Oil
The Minister Of Plantations Industries & Commodities Malaysia, Hon. Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and members of the Malaysian palm oil industry took a personal interest in visiting France recently to address the labeling of no palm oil by local snack food producers. As such negative labeling does not conform to existing regulations in France or the EU and it portrays an undesirable connotation on palm oil as a food ingredient, the matter had to be addressed with the stakeholders.
The labeling is unfair and discriminatory to palm oil producers who have long offered certified sustainable palm oil from Malaysia to buyers worldwide. There is thus no environmental justification for negative labeling of palm oil as palm oil producers have collaborated with NGOs to successfully supply certified sustainable palm oil to meet the market demand. Similarly, there is also no health justification as palm oil has long been endorsed by the US FDA and has been successfully used in Smart Balance which helps to balance the cholesterol ratio. In the USA, this paved the way for branded products with 50% palm oil to carry the FDA approved claim which states – patented blend to help improve your cholesterol (HDL/LDL) ratio.
Nutritional studies further endorse the fact that a palm oil diet has similar cholesterol response to that of olive oil. When the no palm oil labels were displayed by a few US food manufacturers in the 1990s as a result of the anti palm oil campaigns carried out by the American Soyabean Association (ASA), a complaint was launched by Malaysian palm oil producers to the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) who ruled to disallow such labels.
The no palm oil labeling in France also runs afoul of any valid environmental or health claims. Firstly, the French version of the no palm oil label is 20 years outdated. Secondly, the idea was recycled from the US anti palm oil campaign which proved to have no scientific justification whether on environmental or nutritional grounds. This introduces a new French Paradox besides the well known existing one where the French paradoxically have a lower heart disease rate even though they consume higher amounts of saturated fats than the Americans.
The new paradox now is the unjustified negative labeling of palm oil in France. This surprises many as the French have been extensively involved in the development of the oil palm industry. For example, the first oil palm plantation in Malaysia was established in 1917 by a Frenchman by the name of Henri Fauconier at the Tenamaran Estate in Selangor, now belonging to Sime Darby Plantations. Historical records document Henri Fauconier as a respected personality in the oil palm industry in Malaysia. France, through its renowned research centre CIRAD has also been involved in conducting oil palm research and the provision of agronomic advisory services to many oil palm producers in South East Asia, Africa and South America. Therefore, it is paradoxical and ironic to find some French food manufacturers using the no palm oil labels on their products when the French pioneers and their plantation companies have put in tremendous effort to help develop the oil palm industry throughout the world.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) therefore finds the no palm oil labeling in France as a misplaced and unfair act of discrimination without any scientific justification, nutritionally or environmentally. Palm oil is the only food oil that is available as certified sustainably produced. None of the local oils can claim to be sustainably produced as there is no certification scheme for sustainable local food oils in the EU. To claim that the no palm oil labeling is due to its call amongst others , to curb deforestation ( which is used as a parameter to measure sustainability) makes no sense when France has only 29 % forest as a result of intensive agriculture whereas Malaysia has maintained 56% of its total land area as forest.
The no palm oil label cannot be used to indicate the nutritional acceptance of a product. This is already provided within the nutritional labeling segment of food packages under precise description of contents. Just as US regulations have disallowed the no palm oil labeling, the label is not allowed under labeling description for nutrition within the French and EU regulations.
The MPOC has written to the manufacturers concerned to ask them to withdraw the no palm oil labels found in some of their products citing the illegal nature of their labeling practice. The relevant French authorities have been informed of such unacceptable practices. They are encouraged to enforce the law and provide fair treatment to products coming from developing countries where palm oil is mostly produced by small farmers and they should have unimpeded access to the French market. Instead of supporting free trade such labeling goes against international norms to encourage trade between nations. Palm oil producing countries can take counter measures by labeling No French Wine in their local restaurants. After all such actions can be justified as France does not have as much forest left (less sustainable) compared to the (palm oil producing) developing countries.