Monday, October 26

‘Palm oil-free’ claims illegal, says EU-based lawyer

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KUALA LUMPUR: A European-based lawyer has urged the palm oil industry to consider bringing the ‘palm oil-free’ or ‘no palm oil’ claims on food products before selected EU Member States’ courts or administrative authorities, saying they are illegal under EU law under multiple interpretative lenses and legal instruments.

FratiniVergano lawyer Paolo R Vergano said on May 20 this year, the European Commission presented the communication on a farm-to-fork (F2F) strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system.

“In the F2F strategy, the commission stated that it would support the ‘enforcement of rules on misleading information,’ he said in a slide presentation titled ‘EU Market for Palm Oil – Challenges and Opportunities’ released during a seven-day web-based Palm Oil Internet Seminar (Pointers) organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and Bursa Malaysia from June 22-28.

Vergano said environmental allegations often appear to be unsubstantiated misleading generalisations because not all palm oil is environmentally unsustainable, in fact, quite the contrary.

“Palm oil consumption is not per se unhealthy, the key to good health lies in a balanced diet that includes fats and oils.

“Consequently, ‘palm oil-free’ claims violate Article 7(1) (a) of the EU Food Information Regulation and EU Directive 2006/114EC concerning misleading and comparative advertising,” he said.

Clean label claims such as ‘dditives-free’ or ‘free from preservatives’ may be made, so long as they are true, the use of additives in such foods is legal and the claim does not mislead.

As part of the EU’s F2F strategy, the European Commission announced that it intends to publish a proposal for a sustainable food labelling framework to empower consumers to make ‘sustainable food choices’ in 2024.

“This announced proposal has not received much attention, but is poised to become very relevant for palm oil,” he said.

In addition, Vergano urged the palm oil industry to work towards ensuring that the EU’s forthcoming sustainable food labelling framework does not become another tool to discriminate against the golden crop.

“In fact, the EU should acknowledge that today, the forested area in Malaysia amounts to around 53 per cent of the land area. In the EU, despite significant reforestation efforts, the forest area only amounted to around 39.5 per cent of the land area in 2018.”

“Malaysia also makes significant efforts related to ensuring the sustainability of its industries, including mandatory certification for oil palm cultivators and palm oil producers under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard,” he said.

He also suggested that the world’s largest palm oil producers Indonesia and Malaysia both agree on a single sustainability standard for palm oil, thereby taking the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standards further and synchronising their domestic policies and mechanisms, with the standard ideally tabled and developed within the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries so as to become truly international in nature.

It would also have positive repercussions in a variety of instances including in international trade dispute settlement, with respect to the standards adopted by third countries, especially those discriminatory against palm oil, he added. — Bernama