WHO must take some responsibility for anti-palm oil article — MEOA

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KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 18): The Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA) says the World Health Organisation (WHO) must take some responsibility for the publication of a "deeply flawed and biased" anti-palm oil article in the WHO Bulletin last month.

MEOA said WHO has a professional responsibility to ensure that the contents of the articles published under the organisation's aegis are factually correct, "particularly when the impressions conveyed by the representation or misrepresentation of facts have a bearing on the livelihoods of millions".

"Disclaimers do not absolve you as editor of such professional responsibility, neither can they be a salve for your social conscience ? if any," said MEOA vice president Gan Tee Jin in a letter to the editor-in-chief of the WHO Bulletin, Dr Laragh Gollogly.

"If you are unable or unwilling to retract the article, then you should do the next best thing which is to issue an apology and publish this letter in full on your website and in the next issue of your journal," said Gan.

The article titled "The palm oil industry and noncommunicable disease" was written by Sowmya Kadandale, Robert Marten and Richard Smith.

Gan said by accepting the article for publication, the editor had "lent it undeserving credibility due to the association with WHO, a highly trusted organisation".

Noting that a significant part of the article is devoted to issues of planetary health, specifically the impact of oil palm cultivation on deforestation, loss of biodiversity and pollution, Gan said: "One wonders why these aspects are appropriate in a WHO journal."

He said such discussions and studies on environmental impact are incomplete and discriminatory without comprehensively evaluating the alternatives, for instance, of cultivating soy as a replacement for palm oil.

"It is a given, although an unfortunate fact, that feeding a growing global population and growing per capita consumption inevitably entails expansion of agriculture lands. It is well documented that expansion in soy cultivation has far surpassed oil palm hectarage expansion.

"By accepting this article for publication, therefore, you are also responsible for spreading discriminatory assessments of palm oil's impact on planetary health," he said.