A senior government official has warned that Indonesia must anticipate that the negative campaign that has hit palm oil, a major Indonesian commodity, may also later hit other commodities that are equally important to Indonesia.
Speaking at a talkshow on misleading food labelling organized by the Indonesian Association of Palm Oil Producers (GAPKI), Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar said that palm oil opponents were continuously finding new issues to drive their attacks. He said that whatever the reasons behind the attacks, whether business, marketing or politically motivated, early pressure on palm oil used the health issue but now that the accusations had been debunked by researches, they now tended to use the deforestation issue and other “green” issues.
“The issues regarding palm oil will continue to widen and other products which are also strategic for Indonesia, would also be touched,” Siregar said, citing the case of coffee and cacao as examples. He said the trend was for the world to increasingly refer to “green principles” in their trade, economic and political policies.
“So, if we are not able to settle this and be effective in facing this issue for palm oil, then we will have to face risks for the other products,” added Siregar who is also a former Chairman of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC.)
He said that the issue of misleading labeling of product, claiming for example that they were “palm oil-free” was one that had to be faced and countered not by stakeholders in the palm oil industry only, but was the responsibility of all to deal with it.
A number of speakers in the talkshow spoke of many examples of what they called false labeling, with products that actually never had any palm oil content carrying the palm oil free label. They also said that this labeling could also be found in imported product sold in Indonesia and even in the package of some Indonesian made product.
Luckily, the Food and Drug Agency (BPOM) is actively scouring the market to seek out such products and act accordingly. Reri Indrayani, Deputy of Supervision of Processed Food at the BPOM, said that the law was clear that palm oil free labels went against at least BPOM Regulation number 31 of 2018 on Labels for Processed Food which stipulates that labels should not lead to casting doubt on products that does not carry the label.
“The ‘Palm Oil Free’ labeling could give rise to negative assumptions regarding the impact of palm oil content on health,” Indrayani said, adding that such labeling not only could be misleading for the public but also went against the efforts of the government and business players to promote the Indonesian palm oil industry.
Siregar said that allegations that the consumption of palm oil was harmful to human health had been disproven by researchers both domestic and international and thus those who continue to insist to slap the label on their products based on health reasons were misleading consumers and this was a criminal act. He also said that the “palm oil free” labels not only lead to negative impact on stakeholders in the palm oil sector but also on the nation as well.
“The one put at a disadvantage by those who come out with this labeling is the Republic of Indonesia, not merely the palm oil stakeholders in Indonesia,” Siregar said adding that “behind this are misleading perceptions and information that harm Indonesia’s reputation in general.”
He said that stakeholders in the country are indeed directly impacted by the labeling but if the matter was not seen in a strategic context where it was actually the republic that suffered the most, it could give rise to the belief that it was only the responsibility of these stakeholders to settle the matter.
“This is the duty, the responsibility of us all because the one who is put at a disadvantage is Indonesia as a whole,” he stressed.
Siregar also said that the government has been actively conducting approaches, lobbying and negotiations overseas to protect the interest of palm oil but added that in order to succeed, such actions should have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in mind.
“Internationally, what do we have to do? We should always see first. If it (another country’s policy on palm oil) has really to do with sustainable development goal issues, then we have to back it,” he said. He said that policies should be measured using the same standards and in this case, it should be the SDGs and not just based on deforestation considerations.
But Siregar also stressed that all should also abide by the same standard, in this case the SDGs, or else that will be discrimination. “And we will not tolerate discrimination,” he said.