Palm oil. Indonesia and Malaysia hide data and threaten Europe. #Buycott!

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Palm oil. The public sentiment of European consumAtors toward the world’s most widely used oil has changed radically in recent years. No one wants to contribute anymore, with their purchases, to a supply chain tainted by ecocide and land robbery, environmental and worker abuse, and child slavery. Indonesia and Malaysia retaliate, concealing data on production chains and threatening Europe. The answer can only be one, definitive. #Buycott!

European Union, toxic treaties and civil society reactions

The European Commission led by Jean Claude Juncker, as is well known, has been pressing the accelerator on all the toxic treaties that could be scored. He finalized CETA with Canada, JEFTA with Japan, EU-Mercosur agreement with Brazil and Argentina (as well as Paraguay and Uruguay). He also tried to revive TTIP, away from the spotlight. Never minding the international crimes against humanity and the environment, which are still systematically perpetrated in several contracting countries.


Land robbery
and deforestation have been deliberately ignored by the Brussels puppets, in defiance of the commitments the European Union made in the Paris Agreement. Jean Claude Juncker and his trusty Cecilia Malmström thus tried to accelerate negotiations with Indonesia as well, to conclude yet another toxic treaty. But something went wrong, civil society rebelled, and the politicians had to loosen their grip.

Crocodile tears. On 7/23/19, the de facto depleted Commission, following the May elections, announced an ambitious plan ‘to protect and restore the planet’s forests’. (1) Referring specifically to a series of ‘measures to reduce EU consumption and encourage the use of products from supply chains that do not contribute to deforestation.’ An inexorable path, albeit one long opposed by palmocrats and their client corporations, from Big Food to oil companies.

Palm oil. Indonesia and Malaysia, the threats to the EU.

Indonesia and Malaysia, the two leading countries in global palm oil production (>80%), have decided to attack the European institutions, preemptively, to defend their interests. Before Europe takes any necessary restrictive measures against a wholly unsustainable commodity, the Asian tigers are threatening Europe with economic retaliation. Accusing the EU of ‘discriminating‘ against tropical fat ‘in favor of vegetable oils produced by European farmers‘.

Both of our governments see it as a calculated, deliberate and hostile political economy strategy to remove palm oil from the EU market. If this regulation were to come into effect, our governments could review their overall relationship with the European Union, as well as with individual states that are members of it. (…) We have told the EU that we will be forced to strike back if they continue with this unfair discrimination against palm oil‘.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed sent a joint letter to the European Commission and Parliament, 5.4.19. (2) To protest a priori the actions that the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg might take against the first agricultural commodity they export to Europe. An aggressive diplomatic campaign is looming, with hypothetical involvement of the WorldTrade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.

Indonesia, omertà on bloody supply chains

A senior Indonesian official, Mr. Musdhalifah Machmud, made a formal recommendation to the country’s palm industries on 6.4.19. Who shall refrain from disclosing their data with other parties, including external consultants, NGOs, and multilateral and foreign agencies on plantations. With the ridiculous justification of reasons of national security, privacy and competition. Conceal data to better hide land grabs and deforestation. Which, moreover, have already emerged to an extraordinarily greater extent than the claims of the self-styled sustainable industries (which adhere to RSPO, Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil production).

At least 1 million hectares of virgin forests destroyed and concealed by RSPO-certified palmocrats has already been discovered with planimetric surveys by the Zoological Society of London, in 2017. Forty percent of palm-grown and RSPO-certified areas-as shown by an international scientific study, published in 2018-have experienced significant environmental degradation (e.g., fire, ecosystem devastation) since 2011 (!).

Publication of plantation maps is a prescribed requirement for RSPO ‘sustainability’ certification. (3) Without, however, implying the actual sustainability of the plantations themselves, as documented through analysis of Ferrero’s 116 supplier industries (109 of which are located in Indonesia, Malaysia and New Guinea). This declaration is therefore a prerequisite for independent third parties-such as Greenpeace and other organizations-to carry out audits on the territories(land grabbing, deforestation, pesticides used, working conditions).

The Indonesian government’s ‘recommendation’ is hardly worth hiding ecocide, which is now easy to demonstrate by comparing current satellite surveys with those of previous years. However, it can hinder the investigation of land robberies and the resolution of unresolved conflicts over those same areas. It thus goes to cover up abuses with an additional blanket of omertà, by imperium. And ‘confidentiality’ of criminal operations is justified.

Internationally, some of these companies have already adhered to the standards, (map publication, ed.) but the letter recommends that these companies do not meet them‘ (Asep Komarudin, forest conservation activist, Greenpeace Indonesia).

Greenpeace Indonesia — through the voice of forest protection campaign manager Kiki Taufik — said the government’s appeal threatens to hinder transparency initiatives by companies such as Wilmar International. Indeed, the global leader in palm oil production had in December 2018 announced a commitment to map and monitor hundreds of its suppliers. (4)

Traceability?

That same traceability that in Europe is guaranteed ex lege – on the basis of the General Food Law (reg. EC 178/02, Article 18) – is instead denied by order of the authority. From a government with which the very European Commission is negotiating a free trade agreement. And while we are concerned about strengthening traceability to better ensure food safety and consumer information, they want to hide basic information.

Who and where produced what and when? What agronomic practices and processes, what self-control measures? What material flows have followed the raw and semi-finished materials that become part of the global food supply chain? And what is their actual socio-environmental impact? There is little to hide, the unsustainability of the palm supply chain is known to all who have decided to open their eyes.

#Buycott!

Countdown to Extinction – the report published by Greenpeace International in June 2019 – highlights how, from 2010 to the present, thearea planted with GMO soybeans in Brazil has increased by 45 percent. But palm oil production in Indonesia has increased even more, to the extent of 75 percent. So much so that the Asian archipelago ranked third globally in greenhouse gas emissions. After the U.S. and China, but without even an iota of the industrial output of the two leading planetary economic powers. (5)

#Buycott! is our campaign, carried out together with Égalité and other associations that would like to join. A peaceful but equally determined initiative aimed at disrupting demand for palm oil, GMO soybeans (even when used in livestock feed) and meat from the Americas. Stop buying unsustainable products, once and for all!

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) See EC press release, ‘Commission steps up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests,’ 7/23/19, https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-4470_it.htm

(2) John McBeth, Palm oil a hot issue in Indonesian election, Asia Times, 10.4.19, https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/04/article/palm-oil-a-hot-issue-in-indonesian-election/

(3) https://rspo.org/library/lib_files/preview/461

(4) Back in 2016, the Indonesian government blocked a private sector initiative to increase transparency in the palm oil sector, the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP). An agreement between six of the major refineries, broken off as a result of pressure from some parts of the government. V. Hans Nicolas Jong, Mongabay, News & inspiration from nature’s frontline, 5/21/19, https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/indonesia-calls-on-palm-oil-industry-obscured-by-secrecy-to-remain-opaque/

(5) Greenpeace International, June 2019, https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2019/06/b4258a33-gp_cte_report_lowres.pdf

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.