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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8562


Senator XENOPHON (3:48 PM) —I present the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.


Senator XENOPHONThe incorporated speech read as follows

When you’re shopping for your weekly groceries at the supermarket, and you turn over the packet to read the ingredients of a bag of chips, a block of chocolate or a box of biscuits, you’d expect that “what you see is what you get”.

But, believe it or not, that’s not always the case.

And what’s being hidden from us is impacting our health, and destroying the environment.

Palm oil is one of the world’s leading agricultural commodities and is widely used as an ingredient in food products, cosmetics and other household items.

In fact, palm oil can be found in approximately 40 percent of food products at the supermarket, and every year, the average Australian consumes around 10 kilograms of palm oil, and doesn’t even know it.

Instead, under the current rules of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, manufacturers are able to label palm oil as “vegetable oil” on their packaging.

Well, for starters, the oil palm is a fruit, not a vegetable.

Secondly, palm oil is high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, and, according to the Heart Foundation, biomedical research indicates that the consumption of palm oil increases the risk of heart disease.

Thirdly, in South East Asia alone, the equivalent of 300 soccer fields are deforested every hour for oil palm plantations, and each year more than 1,000 Orang-utans die as a result of land clearing in this region.

There’s no question that the current labelling laws are inadequate and are misleading consumers.

And being allowed to disguise palm oil as “vegetable oil” means that Australians aren’t able to make an informed choice for themselves and for their family about what they buy at the supermarket because they’re not being given all the facts.

This Bill builds on the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Laws) Bill 2009 introduced to the Senate on 20 August 2009 by myself, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Barnaby Joyce, and the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown.

It requires Food Standards Australia New Zealand in its authority to develop and approve certain food labelling standards regarding the use of the word “Australian” on packaging of food products and also to require greater detail of the country of origin of ingredients used in food products.

Put simply, if we are what we eat, we have a right to know what we are eating, and these two Bills will give consumers truthful, accurate and clear information about what they are purchasing.

May I take a moment at this time to acknowledge the support of my colleagues, Senator Bob Brown and Senator Barnaby Joyce who have co-sponsored both this and the initial Truth in Labelling Laws Bill with me.

Their continued support and work towards ensuring consumer protection and to seek improvement in labelling laws for the betterment of the public is encouraging and admirable.

Zoos Victoria, Adelaide Zoo and Auckland Zoo in New Zealand recently launched the “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign calling for palm oil to be labelled specifically on food packaging.

To date, over 41,000 Australians have already signed onto the campaign.

So, the community is behind this Bill.

Some manufacturers are even behind this Bill.

Yet why isn’t it compulsory for palm oil to be specifically listed as an ingredient on all packaging?

In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations requires that each individual fat and/or oil ingredient of a food is to be declared by its specific common or usual name.

That is, palm oil is listed as “palm oil”.

Similarly, under the provisions of this Bill, regardless of the amount of palm oil used in the food or to produce the food, palm oil must be listed as an ingredient of the food.

It’s important to be clear that this Bill is not calling for a boycott of products which contain palm oil - rather, it is designed to enable consumers to know the whole truth about the ingredients that particular product contains so that they can make their own choice prior to purchase.

Just like the inclusion of wheat in a product is labelled to inform consumers with possible allergies, so too should shoppers be told that palm oil is contained in a particular food product.

Since announcing my intention to move this Bill, I have been contacted by a dozens of people outraged that they didn’t know.

Angry they hadn’t been told that palm oil was contained in so many of the foods they consume on a daily basis.

Feeling duped that they believed the ingredients list on the food packaging.

And why shouldn’t they?

Why shouldn’t consumers assume that when the list of ingredients is printed on the packaging, that ALL the ingredients are included in that list?

Quite simply, under today’s current food labelling laws, they can’t.

The current rules means Australians can’t trust what they read on the packaging.

On the issue of conservation - palm oil can be produced sustainably and manufacturers should be encouraged to use certified sustainable palm oil rather than palm oil which is produced as a result of deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, a farmer will chop down all the trees on his land and sell the timber for money. He’ll then burn the stumps and plant oil palm which is fast growing and from which he can crush the fruit to produce palm oil and also sell the shells of the palm fruit as food for cattle.

But by cutting down these trees, Orang-utans lose their habitat. In fact, 90 percent of Orangutan habitat has been lost already and it’s forecast that at the current rate of deforestation, Orang-utans could be extinct in the wild in less than 10 years.

And on a broader scale, the environmental impact of deforestation is significant. How can we be serious about looking after the environment, when we’re not encouraging businesses to farm sustainably?

Palm oil can be produced sustainably. Under criteria set out by the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, sustainable palm oil plantations are ones which are established in already cleared land, rather than through deforestation.

It also includes requirements for reforestation along the river-line, bans on pesticides, appropriate labour conditions and wildlife friendly practices.

Under this Bill, manufacturers who use certified sustainable palm oil will be able to list the use of the ingredient as “CS Palm Oil” to indicate its sustainable origins and to show consumers that they are sourcing their ingredient from a sustainable oil palm plantation.

If anything, this is a business benefit for manufacturers because it will show a social conscience and a genuine interest in working towards a better environmental future.

Consumers will welcome manufacturers who use certified sustainable palm oil and it will be a business’ point of difference.

This Bill will encourage food manufacturers to purchase from sustainable palm oil producers and will provide consumers with all the information they need to make their own choice.

Calling palm oil “vegetable oil” is misleading. Not telling Australians that palm oil is one of the ingredients in or used to make a product is unfair.

This Bill will make it compulsory for manufacturers to list palm oil as a specific ingredient if palm oil has been used in the food or to produce the food.

Consumers have a right to know and this Bill gives them that right.