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January: Palm oil advert misleading

Friends of the Earth International's official complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Agency about a palm oil advert was fully upheld on 9 January 2008.
Palm oil advert misleading

The advert, which appeared on the television 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 accompanied with claims that palm oil is "a gift from nature, a gift for life", that "its trees ... help our planet breathe", and stating that Malaysian palm oil has been "sustainably produced since 1917".

 

Friends of the Earth International complained that the statement "sustainably produced since 1917" is untrue: most palm oil is produced in a way that is not at all socially or environmentally sustainable. We also protested 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 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 a massive 8% 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 also 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" and said that this advert should not be broadcast again.

 

A 2008 study by Friends of the Earth Europe showed that there are grave environmental and social problems associated with palm oil plantations. The study is available online here.

 

Photo: Indonesian forest with Wilmar's land clearing on the background hills.
Photo credit: Milieudefensie / FoE Netherlands.

 

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