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Green groups see the over call for their punishment

PETALING JAYA: A recent instigation for punitive action against critics of the palm oil industry has prompted two environmental activist groups to condemn reactive behaviour and to call for positive engagement.

Commenting on remarks made at a forum in Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday, spokesmen for Eco-tourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) said the attacks by industry captains Yusof Basiron and Franki Anthony Dass were unwarranted and unfair.

Yusof, executive director of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries, and Dass, chief adviser and value officer at Sime Darby Plantation, accused NGOs of orchestrating attacks against palm oil.

Yusof called the groups “toxic entities” and asked whether it was not time to take action against them. Dass urged the government to do “something drastic for once”.

Ecomy CEO Andrew Sebastian, noting that the allegedly toxic NGOs were not named, said it was unbecoming of Yusof to generalise.

He said environmental groups could contribute greatly to the industry if it were to engage them in a positive manner.

He claimed that local NGOs had consistently offered valuable feedback, and cited their contributions to efforts to stop the recent spate of elephant deaths in Sabah and Sarawak.

“I, for one, would love the opportunity to be invited to a series of discussions with industry representatives,” he said, adding that neither he nor anyone else from Ecomy had been approached for a dialogue.

Sebastian said the palm oil industry, because of its immense size, was using up a lot of resources from the nation’s natural heritage and had to be held accountable to high standards of scrutiny.

Peka president Shariffa Sabrina Akil described the industry’s attacks on NGOs as attempts to silence critics and deflect attention from genuine concerns over the environment.

“This is never a good thing,” she said, adding that such a hawkish stance could result in the industry’s loss of clients in the European Union.

The industry should instead be taking action to reduce damage to the environment, she added.

Shariffa Sabrina agreed with Sebastian that palm oil companies appeared keen to avoid interaction with environmental groups.

She said the industry should realise that it had never been the only target of criticism from environmentalists, noting that NGOs had also been speaking out against environmental damage caused by mining as well as fisheries and other agricultural industries.

“So stop whining and listen,” she said. “Maybe we can together work on a more sustainable approach to surviving.”

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