Australian Senate passes palm oil labelling bill

26 June 2011 Science News
Australian Senate passes palm oil labelling bill
The Senate has passed an amendment to the Food Act requiring that
products containing palm oil be explicitly labelled, rather than
described as 'vegetable oil'.

The bill was passed by Coalition votes, and driven by Greens senator
Rachael Siewert and Independent senator Nick Xenophon, both of whom
have been vocal in their campaigns on the subject of palm oil. Most of
the world's supply of palm oil, an extremely common ingredient in
foods and food additives, is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, where
it is common practice to clearfell forest for plantations. Zoos
Victoria reports that clearfelling results in the deaths of up to 50
orangutans per week.
The issue came to prominence last year, after a grisly ad from
Greenpeace <>
featured orangutan fingers in a Kit Kat wrapper. Senator Xenophon
also emphasised the consumer health aspect of the labelling, saying
that Australians consume 10kg of palm oil a year without knowing it,
and that while other products labelled as 'vegetable oil' contain as
little as 2% saturated fat, palm oil is 50% saturated fat. While the
bill was rejected last week by a Senate committee, the alliance
between the Opposition and the two senators was enough to pass the
bill, which will likely pass in the House of Representatives
if the Coalition-Greens alliance holds.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council decried the bill, saying the
cost of changing a single label would be $10,000 to $19,000, and that
food and grocery manufacturers were already under pressure from a
'perfect storm' of rising input costs.

"Food labels should be about ensuring consumers have important product
information relating to health, nutrition and safety. From a health
perspective, it's more important for consumers to know how much
saturated fat is in a product rather than where the saturated fat is
sourced," said a release from the AFGC.

Malaysia also expressed "grave concern", with the Malaysian Plantation
Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok describing
the bill as "discriminatory". Dompok said the bill seeks to encourage
"the use of certified sustainable palm oil in order to promote the
protection of wildlife habitat".

"In this context, Malaysia is of the view that labeling palm oil
purely from the perspective of sustainable production is
discriminatory," he told BERNAMA, the Malaysian National News Agency.
"In addition, competing vegetable oils are not required to be

"It is clearly evident that facts and figures provided to the Senate
Community Affairs Legislative Committee have been clearly ignored,"
Dompok said.

"It is with great regret and disappointment that the Australian Senate
has not accorded the due attention contributed by the oil palm
industry in Malaysia and the sustainable practices adopted."

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