The Malaysian Oil Palm lobby and its spokespeople have a simple approach towards defending their industry, which is to deny there is a single concern about the business and to vociferously villify and attack anyone who suggests otherwise.
Oil palm has generated stacks of cash, so there has been plenty to pay legions of PR firms and ‘think tank’ experts and all manner of other advocates to back up this loud tirade in policy forums, the media and online.
Articles penned by people who don’t actually exist will go further, libelling outfits like Sarawak Report by alleging they are ‘in the pay’ of various rival concerns for example and by aggressively fingering and intimidating those who are genuinely and rightfully concerned by a massive environmental tranformation that is threatening to turn much of the Borneo rainforest into a dustbowl.
Even the World Health Organisation was denounced this week as being ignorant and “unscholarly” for suggesting that these very tactics mirror the way in which the tobacco industry and others who profit against the interests of wider human health have operated in the face of genuine and concerned criticism from onlookers.
“We view the article as one of half-truths, unscholarly, flawed and utterly biased against palm oil with the suspected intention of demonising the palm oil industry,”
thundered the Primary Industries Ministry, continuing her obedience to a party line inherited from the past government and the Malaysian Oil Palm Council.
No question about the Malaysian Oil Palm Council or Ms Kok suffering from a lack of objectivity, of course. Oil palm has become a vital source of revenue as successive decision makers have raced to put vast tracks of sequestered land under this single cash crop, creating a dagerous national dependancy in the process.
Moreover, the government has itself taken direct ownership of much of the industry, further generating inevitable bias and vested interest on the part of the very spokesmen who are so eager to denounce critics for allegedly failing to be objective.
Thus, according to the narrative woven by Teresa Kok over the past weeks, there has been no deforestation caused by Malaysian oil palm plantations; no corruption; no landgrabbing; no abuses of migrant or traficked labour; no trampling of human or indigenous rights and the product is unfailingly healthy. Anyone who suggests otherwise has been categorised as mercenary, biased, unscholarly and plain wrong – fingers in ears and hands over eyes, period.
This angry and emotional handling of the situation betrays anything but objectivity or a desire for honesty. But, of course, if the facts were all stacked up in favour of mass oil palm then there would be no need for emotion, because the critics would pose little threat.
Few people criticise clean water for example and who would listen if they did?