Mahendra: “Palm Oil Free” Labels Violate Prevailing Laws

JAKARTA – The issue of labeling food products with “Palm Oil Free” (POF) must be thoroughly viewed from a strategic perspective because it has damaged Indonesia’s reputation, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahendra Siregar said when presenting his keynote speech at the #INAPalmoil Talkshow on Wednesday, 16 September 2020.

“Surely, based on the strategic perspective, the POF label has not only harmed the palm oil industry. But it has also tarnished the reputation of our country, the Republic of Indonesia, as the labeling is misleading and based on false information,” said Mahendra during the virtual talkshow themed with “Food Labeling Threatens Palm Oil Market”.

He said that previously, they based the POF label on the health issues, such as saturated fat that can negatively impact human health. But apparently, based on a number of scientific studies such claim was proven wrong and misleading consumers. Later, the POF is attributed to the issue of deforestation which has been disseminated and exploited by certain groups.

Mahendra explained that the POF maneuver abroad is driven by several factors, including the idealism of certain groups, the protectionist attitude of right-wing extremists and marketing interests of certain companies.

“I believe the Indonesian market also has some similar ideals. We are grateful that BPOM, a government institution authorized to monitor food and drug, understands the strategic position of palm oil products,” said Mahendra.

Reri Indriani, Deputy III of the Food and Drug Supervisory Agency (BPOM) on the same occasion explained that legally, the POF label contradicts article 67 point I of BPOM regulation no.31/2008 on processed food labeling, which stipulates that businesses are prohibited from including statements, information , writings, images, logos, claims and / or visualizations that directly or indirectly denigrate the goods and / or services of other parties. ”

Mahendra noted that the problems facing the palm oil industry are getting more complex and diverse, so a well-planned and systematic strategy is needed to deal with the anti-palm oil campaigns.

Palm Oil Diplomacy

Mahendra said that to advance the palm oil industry, the Indonesian government has taken various diplomatic steps at international stages, ranging from bilateral to multilateral and even to international meetings. “The palm oil  has been always one of the main issues in the discussions,” he said.

According to him, at the multilateral level, the Indonesian government has filed a lawsuit against the European Union’s (EU) Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II policy with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The legal case has got a positive response from the WTO which is currently in the process of determining panelists in the settlement body. “Not only that, as Indonesia has also proposed an initiative to set a standard of vegetable oils based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to harmonize standards for all vegetable oils,” he said.

Meanwhile at the regional level, the issue of oil palm discrimination has strained relations between the European Union and ASEAN. “For the first time in the history of relationship between the European Union and ASEAN, the relationship enhancement will be postponed due to EU discrimination against palm oil. All ASEAN member countries are united to defend palm oil,” said Mahendra.

Currently, Indonesia and Britain are conducting negotiations to apply due diligence to the international trade process for several commodities, which include palm oil. However, to carry out a fair system Indonesia will propose the establishment of a standard reference or certification which will later be applied not only to Indonesia but also to the UK.

He said that this is potential to both benefit and threaten Indonesia’s position, as its application will possibly expand to other strategic commodities such as cocoa and coffee to meet the same sustainable development standards as palm oil.

“But in terms of sustainability the palm oil has been more advanced, since we already have ISPO (Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil). The sustainability compliance is becoming the focal point as it is increasingly demanded by the global market. The most prepared commodity on this issue is palm oil. But ironically, palm oil is the most discriminated commodity at global market, ” Mahendra concluded. (*)