BRUSSELS� The veritable war against palm oil by the West is more commercial then anything else but it does not mean producing countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia should take it lightly as both its economic and social implications can be far reaching.

Adjunct Professor at John Cabot University Pietro Paganini believed that it was about time the issue is tackled in the same method as the West - with facts and figure - with special emphasis on Malaysia's environmental and sustainability commitment.

Explaining the scenario, he said there are producers of vegetable oils, food companies, retailers that promote their own brands, consumer and farmers' associations and even trade unions that are benefiting economically from the absence of palm oil.

On the other side is the so-called health and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), not to mention the nationalist and protectionist political movements, he said in a recent article published on the issue.

Paganini said it was true that some food producers had switched to other vegetable oils with the aim of winning over a few more consumers in what is an already stagnant market.

However, a recent study by the Italian think-tank, Campagne Liberali, showed that many of the brands that had replaced palm oil with other oils did not necessarily reduce the levels of saturated fats, which is often claimed to be higher in palm oil.

Western consumers love to let themselves be duped, apparently because of their obsession with the word 'free': sugar free, fat free, gluten free. In the same way as they are obsessed with their duty to save the planet, its fauna and its flora.

It's a pity that in the case of both these obsessions, they fail to follow any experimental method but rather rely on an ideology. Sadly, the West is progressively abandoning recourse to science in the public debate, he quipped.

The impact of this war, which was still very limited, at least on a commercial level, risked undermining the reputation of major producers of palm oil, with dramatic, long-term repercussions, said Paganini, who is also the Co-Founder of Competere - Policies for Sustainable Development - a think-tank, based in Milan and Rome, that fostered policies that favoured innovation.

Up to now, Indonesia and Malaysia have responded to the attacks by Western groups.

Nevertheless, with the worsening of the conflict, it might be opportune to begin responding to the West with the same subtle weapons of intelligence and communication, for example by questioning the West's production methods, its historical and philosophical contradictions, and its tedious arrogance, Paganini stressed.

Among others, the European Parliament passed a resolution in April on palm oil and deforestation, claiming rain forests were being cleared to make way for oil palm plantation.

For this, he said: Europe has taken some thousand years to arrive at policies in favour of the environment and sustainability. In the meantime it has, and continues in part, to deforest, pollute, transform or, more precisely, devastate its own lands.

Even today there is still no European Union (EU) country that is blameless. And yet, the EU preaches the sermon of the good head of the family all over the world: do not repeat our errors. Those European sermons are worth treasuring.

Nevertheless, it is worth reminding them that in Malaysia almost the same level of environmental and health awareness was reached in less than 50 years.

A lot is being invested in sensitising the population, that is numerically greater than those of the major EU countries as a whole and spread across a much wider and complex territory, he said.

There is investment in research and development activities and education aimed at the new generation.

In this regard it would be good to remind Europeans how much is being done for innovation and therefore to increase productivity and sustainability.

Paganini did not mince his words when he said: Give them these facts and figures. And, do not be afraid to ask them what they are doing to protect their territory, to fight child labour, the exploitation of migrants, inequalities between men and women and, the many species of animals that are at risk of extinction.

Western NGOs are indeed churning out lies and Malaysia and other oil palm producing countries must continue to produce facts for the truth to prevail.


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