A FEW months ago, I wrote for TCW about an attempt to cancel palm oil. There were spurious claims in the science journal Nature and elsewhere that this innocuous ingredient, used in everything from biscuits to hair products, had ‘links to cancer’. Those claims crumbled under quite basic scrutiny. Virtue-signallers wanted to puff up their eco-credentials by jumping on the latest green bandwagon.
Now, a new, more sinister attack on palm oil is creeping into view, this time not from a group of academics, but from the European Union.
The EU Parliament has approved a package of measures called the ‘Due Diligence Proposal’ which it says will assist in the fight against deforestation. In fact, it directly threatens a wide variety of foodstuffs, including beef, coffee, cocoa, and palm oil. The regulation could make deforestation worse in the case of palm oil by encouraging producers to move to oils such as soybean, olive and rapeseed, which require more land and hence cause more deforestation than palm oil.
The EU has declared war on palm oil, the most effective and least environmentally destructive vegetable oil. Why?
The EU is not primarily concerned with preventing deforestation. If it were, lawmakers in Brussels would not be trying to force unpopular products like palm oil out of the European market by suffocating it in red tape and import bans. Instead, they would be investigating where the blame for deforestation really lies and what they can do to make a difference.
For the EU, protecting the European manufacturers who produce rival products (i.e. other vegetable oils) is more important, even though they are much more expensive to produce because they use more land (meaning fewer homes for orangutans). Brussels is happy to pave the way for a much faster rate of deforestation (and bump up prices on supermarket shelves, even as inflation is at record highs) while talking down to ordinary people by insisting their only motivation is saving the planet.
European lawmakers have practically admitted they are playing checkers instead of chess on complicated environmental issues by giving the green light to the Due Diligence Proposal and putting the Bill into law. The EU can’t see more than one move ahead. It seems to ignore what might happen further into the future (deforestation goes up).
Enter Brexit. For all the flaws with its delivery, thankfully, Britain is at least free of new EU laws like this one.
It’s a relief that Britain isn’t bound by any ludicrous policy proposal the EU makes any more. That means we don’t have to chip in for a misguided new law that will aggravate deforestation, and we don’t have to meddle in the markets for food and toiletries to drive up the prices of those necessities at a time when people are already struggling to make ends meet.
To rub salt into the wound for the unfortunate 27 countries who remain part of the EU and are therefore subject to this new law, the EU is demanding that member states trust it to oversee the ‘verification’ process. They want the millions of businesses which rely on imports of products such as palm oil, beef, soy, cocoa, and coffee to know that the EU will act swiftly and responsibly to ‘check’ that the items were not connected with deforestation in their supply chains.
Can we rely on them to carry out this task? Do we seriously expect that the handling of such convoluted paperwork will be simple, prompt and just? Not in a month of Sundays. This will be a terrible obstacle for businesses. If this happens, free trade inside Europe and between Europe and other nations will be subject to a whole new set of unnecessary impediments and delays.
This is a perfect illustration of the dangers of excessive government interference. Instead of letting the market find a solution, which was happening with palm oil, significant progress being made to make the production process even more sustainable and friendly to the natural world, the EU has stepped in and made a clumsy intervention in the market. This will only make the core problem worse and create a host of additional problems.
Our political leaders ought to be more vocal about benefits of Brexit such as this. British customers will be in a far stronger position in the future now that we may continue to buy food, toiletries, and other products containing palm oil without being hampered by ineffective European law-making and over-regulation. The EU, meanwhile, has my sincere gratitude for reminding us why we voted to leave the bloc almost seven years ago.