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Friday, 04 Jan, 2019

Kok: No specific laws in Malaysia prohibiting insulting 'No Palm Oil' labels

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said there are no specific laws in Malaysia that prohibits importation of food products bearing the 'No Palm Oil' labels. [NSTP/NURUL SHAFINA JEMENON]

PUTRAJAYA: Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said there are no specific laws in Malaysia that prohibits importation of food products bearing the 'No Palm Oil' labels.

She, however, appeals to retailers, especially supermarket operators, to refrain from such unethical retail practices.

"I have received photo evidence of ice-creams with banners and peanut butter with 'No Palm Oil' labeling sold at supermarkets in Perak, Selangor and Johor via WhatsApp from concerned industry stakeholders,” she said.

"I must say there is no specific law in Malaysia that prohibits such food labeling that insults the palm oil industry," she added.

When asked if retailers selling 'No Palm Oil' labelled products are committing criminal defamation, Kok replied, "I have been advised by my officers that section 499 and section 502 of the Malaysian Penal Code cannot be used on a commodity's reputation .. in this case, palm oil.

"I have been told by lawyers that defamation suits and criminal defamation can only be applied when a person or a group of people's reputation is harmed," Kok said.

"So, I would like to urge retailers, specifically supermarket operators to refrain from importing products that has labels that insult the palm oil industry.

"I have spoken to Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on this. It is for his Ministry to take action on such insulting food labeling that mislead consumers in Malaysia," she added.

Kok was speaking to reporters at a media conference here today. She noted that four countries, namely Ukraine, Norway, Switzerland and France have had their lawmakers legislated to ban or curb consumption of palm oil.

"I will be flying to Jakarta next month for the Council of Palm Oil Producing Council meeting to discuss with the Indonesian government on a joint action between our two nations to file complaints with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on such anti-palm oil campaigns," Kok said.

"If Indonesia is agreeable, the implementing body in Malaysia to file complaints of palm oil trade barriers with the WTO is the International Trade and Industry Ministry," Kok added.

For the record, two years ago, former Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong had called out on Danish food company Arla Foods (that owns the Lurpak butter brand) in regards to palm oil labeling.

"The ‘No Palm Oil’ labels are meant to mislead the consumer. The labels are not required by law, nor do they provide any information to the consumer," Mah had reportedly said.

"They are there for only one reason — to imply that because a product does not contain palm oil, it is somehow nutritionally or environmentally superior. This is false and an unacceptable attempt to mislead Malaysian consumers," Mah added.

"These labels perpetrate a huge injustice against smallholders and other palm oil producers, because they build suspicion and negative sentiment in the minds of consumers.

"We cannot accept that foreign companies come to Malaysia and denigrate palm oil. The 'No Palm Oil' labels are a serious threat to the continued stability and success of Malaysia’s palm oil industry," Mah had, then, said.

As a result of this advocacy, in October 2017, Arla Foods admitted wrongdoing and agreed to remove from sale in Malaysia all products bearing “No Palm Oil” or “Palm Oil Free” labels as they discriminated against palm oil.

All of Arla Foods’ products with such insulting labels were removed from sale throughout retail outlets in Malaysia within 60 days.

Source : New Straits Times

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