Published 8 hours ago on 02 May 2019
The primary industries minister called for Asean solidarity on the issue in a keynote address at the 6th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources. — Picture by Hari Anggara
SINGAPORE, May 2 — A Malaysian government minister has used a speech in Singapore to take a swipe at what she called “sensationalised” signs at Singapore Zoo dealing with palm oil production and deforestation.
Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok called for Asean solidarity on the issue in a keynote address at the 6th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources, a forum organised by local think-tank, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
She said Malaysia was working hard to create a sustainable palm oil industry and that “it is sad to hear that sentiments against palm oil have also taken root in Singapore”.
“For example, the Singapore Zoo has on several occasions created sensationalised displays on palm oil and deforestation at its orangutan’s enclosures,” she told the audience at the Fullerton Hotel.
“These damage the image of palm oil producing countries within this region despite progressive efforts towards sustainability and wildlife conservation. In this case, Singapore Zoo acted possibly in haste and reflecting emotions expressed by many ill-informed visitors.”
Critics of palm oil production say the clearing of forests to grow the crop destroy important habitats of wildlife, including endangered species.
One sign currently at the Singapore Zoo states in part: “Illegal logging and conversion of forests to palm oil plantations are serious threats to rainforest animals.” It was not clear if this was a sign Kok was objecting to.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mike Barclay, the group chief executive officer of Mandai Holding Parks, the parent company of Singapore Wildlife Reserves (WRS), said that public education was a key mission of all the parks operated by WRS including the Zoo.
“We will continue to communicate messages advocating the protection of wildlife and their habitats across all our channels, including animal exhibit interpretives, park posters and our website,” he said.
WRS advocated for “sustainably produced palm oil” and was an active member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which has its secretariat in Kuala Lumpur, he added.
Kok said both producers and traders, including those based in Singapore, benefitted from the trade and export of commodities such as palm and coconut oil, produced in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) region.
She called for Asean solidarity on the issue, adding that Malaysia had taken steps to improve its sustainability of the oil palm industry even as it faced criticism from Western countries.
“If the European Union countries can stand united on assumptions of unsustainable production and consumption of palm oil and other forest-based products, we as Asean should stand tall to fight against those unfair and discriminative judgements made by them.”
Kok cited initiatives by the Malaysian government to create greater sustainability in the palm oil industry, such as capping the expansion of the country’s palm oil plantations at 6.5 million hectares by 2023. She added that Malaysia currently has 5.85 million hectares given over to palm oil cultivation.
“However, in striving to achieve such a sustainable consumption and production system, it is important to reflect that (international standards of certification) could evolve as barriers to trade and impinge upon developing nations striving to create more wealth exploitation of their natural resources,” said Kok.
She called the backlash against the palm oil industry created by anti-palm oil campaigns “extremely provocative and belittling” for Malaysia, and added that there was stigma against the nutritional and health benefits of palm oil.
She said her ministry had contributed funds to protect wildlife such as orangutan and Borneo pygmy elephants in Sabah, and urged Singapore Zoo to “take note” of the efforts before putting up anti-palm oil signage.
Elaborating on her remarks to TODAY on the sidelines of the event, Kok urged people in the region, including Singaporeans, to understand the benefits of palm oil and called for Singaporeans to appreciate the efforts by Malaysia to produce palm oil sustainably.
She also said that the Singapore Zoo, which housed tropical animals from Malaysia, should not single out palm oil and called for the Zoo to partner with Malaysia on its reforestation and wildlife conservation efforts.
Speaking on the sidelines of the forum, the head of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), Dr Kalyana Sundram, told TODAY that the signs that Kok had referred to had been put beside the orangutan enclosure “for some time”. He added that MPOC had protested against the signs about two years ago before the Singapore Zoo “corrected” the information.
Barclay did not respond to questions by TODAY on whether the signs outside the orangutan enclosure had been amended in response to the organisation’s protests.
In his email response, he said: “We trust that ensuring the consumption of certified sustainable palm oil can help minimise the negative impact of palm oil plantations on wildlife and their habitats.
He acknowledged that palm oil is the highest-yielding source of vegetable oil, and that the palm oil industry creates stable employment for many across the region. “Given the efficiency of palm oil production and its ubiquitous use, WRS believes that boycotting of the palm oil industry is not effective,” he added. — TODAY