The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told the Council that its magazine ad for Malaysian palm oil that ran with the headline ‘Palm Oil: The Green Answer’ should not appear again in the same form.
Criticisms of the advert, which ran in The Economist, came from environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, among others, which argued the environmental claims made by the Malaysian organisation were misleading and could not be backed up.
The text of MPOC’s advert refuted criticism that the industry was responsible for 'rampant deforestation’ and ‘unfair treatment of farmers and indigenous peoples’.
It called these allegations ‘protectionist agendas hidden under a thin veneer of environmental concern’ and instead argued that palm oil is the ‘only product able to sustainably and efficiently meet a large proportion of the world’s increasing demand for oil crop-based consumer goods, food stuffs and bio fuels’.
In response to the ASA investigation, MPOC said this was not meant to be an absolute claim; rather the idea was to communicate the potential of palm oil to meet oil crop needs sustainably.
However, the ASA argued readers could be easily misled by the statement and believe that palm oil production in the country was sustainable.
In addition, the authority concluded that the Council’s attempt to disparage criticisms made against the crop would lead readers to believe that all criticisms made against palm oil were unsound – a conclusion which cannot be substantiated, according to the authority.
‘Censorship’ from advertising authority
The MPOC has labelled the ASA’s ruling as an attempt at censorship from an interested party.
“Consumers have a right to have information about the various products and services available to them and a right to determine for themselves which they want. Consequently, we are deeply concerned that the ASA is acting as an interested party in the public debate on palm oil rather than as a neutral and objective arbiter,” said CEO of the council Tan Sri Dr. Yusof Basiron.
He went on to say that low income consumers in Britain and the poor in the developing world would suffer as a result of the ruling.
According to Dr Yusof the industry has helped lift thousands of people out of poverty in Malaysia and campaigns from organisations such as Friends of the Earth and the ASA have serious consequences for the poor.
“It is regrettable but true that groups like Friends of the Earth do not care about the effect on the poor of environmental measures that restrict economic growth. The ASA has shown the same disregard for the interests of the poor by its actions today.” said Dr. Yusof.