European Commission: A Hall of Mirrors?

EU-funded Lobby Groups Push for Faster Palm Oil Ban

Powerful EU-funded lobby groups – led by Transport and Environment (T&E) which includes large NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and WWF Europe – have re-started their campaign to phase out palm-based biodiesel in the upcoming revision of RED II.

This has been prompted by the commencement of Brussels’ consultation for the revision for the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II. The EU-funded T&E and its members are already pushing for tougher action on palm oil. Before the Public Consultation phase – set to begin in the coming weeks – stakeholders were invited to provide their feedback on the future revision of the RED II.

T&E is – on paper – a member-based organization that includes anti-palm oil groups such as Friends of the Earth. However, its largest funders are the European Commission and Norway’s international aid organization Norad. Norad has previously lent its support to other anti-palm groups such as Rainforest Foundation Norway. Norad – through T&E – has also funded US lobbying group Waxman Strategies to argue against palm-based biofuels in the US.

T&E appears to have had no less than six meetings with European Commission members lobbying against palm oil as a renewable fuel. However, the remarkable thing is that T&E took no less than EUR500,000 from the European Commission in grants. In other words, the Commission is paying lobbyists to lobby other parts of the Commission. Moreover, T&E credits itself with effectively having the recent RED II ban on palm oil biofuels implemented.

The question for the Commission is – now that the RED II palm ban is subject to a WTO dispute – how the Commission can justify continued funding of NGOs that simply create additional trade problems, and ultimately undermine its bilateral relationships?

Is Palm Oil Free Labelling Over in Indonesia?

Indonesian officials have lashed out at ‘palm oil free’ labelling in Indonesia, and possible regulatory sanctions may emerge in Southeast Asia’s largest market.

Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahendra Siregar last week stated that denigration of palm oil through ‘palm oil free’ labelling was detrimental to both palm oil and to Indonesia. Minister Siregar made the statements at the annual INAPalm exhibition, which took place virtually this year.

“[The labelling] is of course not good and detrimental to the palm oil industry,” he said.  “The losers are not only the palm oil stakeholders but the Republic of Indonesia because behind it are misleading perceptions and information, and are detrimental to both Indonesia’s reputation in general and the government, regulators, and various parties that enforce the law.”

Indonesia’s food regulator (Badan Pengawas Obat dan Makanan — BPOM) has indicated that palm oil free labelling most likely runs afoul of Indonesia’s regulations. According to Reri Indriani, BPOM Deputy Director, a key BPOM regulation states 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.” This is also consistent with international guidelines on food labelling, covered in the FAO Codex Alimentarius.

Indonesian regulators have undertaken checks on palm oil free labelling in the past. Last year, the labels were thought to be in contravention of labelling regulations for health reasons, but the regulators have now highlighted that the food labelling law doesn’t permit direct or indirect denigration of competitors. 

Indonesia has brought up palm oil free labeling within the EU at the World Trade Organization on a number of occasions, noting that the claim could potentially contravene EU labelling regulations, as well as the FAO Codex.

Greenpeace Lobbies to Stop Food Production in Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced that the country will expand its farmland areas significantly – by approximately 800,000ha – in order to increase food self-sufficiency. The announcement indicated that the areas would largely be used for rice, maize and cassava. The target regions are North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

Indonesia currently uses around 55 million ha of land for agriculture, slightly over one quarter of total land area. Food self-sufficiency has been a key issue for successive Indonesian governments. One of the key issues for the Indonesian food and agricultural sector is the logistical challenge of the Indonesian archipelago. However, COVID has prompted Indonesian officials to pursue food self-sufficiency goals further.

Despite this, Greenpeace has objected vehemently to the proposal, stating “Since 2015, over a quarter of a million hectares of peatland forest have burned in Central Kalimantan … the government instead is backing a plan that looks set to turn this land into another carbon bomb.”

Question for Greenpeace: do you object when Europe and the United States open up more land for agricultural expansion? Even if you do, does anyone in Washington or Paris listen to you?