ASA slams ’sustainable’ palm oil adverts 09.01.08
Friends of the Earth has today welcomed a decision by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in which palm oil described as "sustainably produced" was ruled to be false advertising. The verdict followed a Friends of the Earth International complaint against an advert by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.
The advertising watchdog is the latest in a series of bodies to question palm oil’s sustainability, furthering concerns about EU plans to import vast quantities of it for use as a biofuel.
Friends of the Earth’s Biofuels Campaigner, Hannah Griffiths said:
"It is a complete lie to advertise palm oil as sustainably produced - it has devastating impacts on the environment and on local communities. The ASA is the latest in a series of major bodies to question the sustainability of agrofuels like palm oil. The European Commission must take note and scrap plans to increase targets for the use of agrofuels."
Agrofuels are crop-based fuels produced in industrial-scale monocultures. They cause serious environmental and social damage in the countries where they are produced. Additionally they have the potential to accelerate climate change rather than help reduce it. Friends of the Earth is calling for a moratorium on imports of agrofuels into the EU and on subsidies that encourage the development and large-scale production of agrofuels.
European Heads of State agreed in March 2007 that, by 2020, ten percent of transport fuels in Europe should consist of plant-based agrofuels like palm oil. In addition, palm oil is being imported to fuel power stations in the EU.
The advert, which appeared on the TV channel BBC World in the summer of 2007, was deemed to have used highly misleading wording and imagery. Footage of a palm oil plantation was interspersed with shots of pristine rainforest and claims that palm oil is "a gift from nature, a gift for life", that "its trees help our planet breathe." Friends of the Earth International complained that the advert’s claim that Malaysian palm oil had been "sustainably produced since 1917" is untrue: most palm oil is produced in a way that is not at all socially or environmentally sustainable.
Friends of the Earth International’s complaint also highlighted the fact that that the advert as a whole was misleading because it implied that palm oil production benefits the environment. Research shows that 86 per cent of all deforestation in Malaysia between 1995 and 2000 was attributed to palm oil development, threatening species such as the orangutan and the proboscis monkey as well as causing social problems for the people who live in or depend on the forests. The draining and deforesting of peatlands in South-East Asia, predominantly to make way for palm plantations, releases huge amounts of soil carbon into the atmosphere, accounting for 8 per cent of global annual CO2 emissions.
The ASA fully upheld Friends of the Earth International’s complaints and condemned the statements for implying universal acceptance that palm oil is being sustainably produced. The watchdog ruled that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council had not provided the necessary evidence to back up such statements. The ASA concluded that the adverts were misleading, "because there was not a consensus that there was a net benefit to the environment from Malaysia’s palm oil plantations."
To meet growing international demand for palm oil, Indonesia and Malaysia plan to double their oil palm plantations area to 18-22 million hectares, an area more then five times the size of the Netherlands. A recent study by Friends of the Earth Europe showed that there are grave environmental and social problems on palm oil plantations.
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