THE American soybean and corn oil industry giants have launched a foul and malicious publicity against the Philippines’—and the world’s—coconut industry obviously designed to knock out our fight against poverty and prevent our inclusive growth.
Even granting, for argument’s sake, that the leaders of these US industries did not intend it to be that destructive to us and the global coconut industries, still the final effect is the same. So, this issue must be viewed as of global concern—and it must be addressed with urgency.
In plain language, they have used the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Heart Association (AHA)—of course I expect the WHO and the AHA to deny any collusion—to issue last month advisories saying coconut products are bad for your heart because they have “saturated fats” that are “found in fatty meat, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard. . . . ” which can cause of heart attacks.
This triggered an immediate formal protest from the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) headquartered in Jakarta. The APCC is an intergovernmental organization under the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the sustained development of the coconut sector of Micronesia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Jamaica and Kenya.
Nearly 25 million households depend on coconut products in more than 90 countries where about 12 million hectares are planted to the crop with total annual production of 12.18 million metric tons of copra alone.
(In the Philippines, one-third of our agricultural lands are planted to coconut. About 40 million of our population depend on the coconut industry, and most of them live below the poverty line, earning less than P2,000 a year. They are among the targets of our economic planners today for priority in the government’s anti-poverty campaign.)
The APCC, on behalf of “the millions of smallholder coconut farmers and the millions of consumers of coconut oil worldwide,” wrote to WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan last March 31, registering its “strong objection to the WHO on the WHO Fact Sheet No. 394” and requesting that WHO:
Remove all warnings on coconut oil, including the one given in the WHO Healthy Diet Fact Sheet No. 394;
2. Distinguish the different saturated fats: short-chain, medium-chain and long- chain in all of its recommendations;
Emphasize that both saturated fat and unsaturated fat are important in a healthy diet; and that WHO
Emphasize that consumption of too much polyunsaturated fat (especially when omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is greater than 5) is unhealthy and associated with cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, obesity and cancer.
The letter was signed by APCC Executive Director Uron N. Salum, with copy sent to UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva in Rome.
Naturally, the Philippine scientific community, especially those identified with the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization of the Philippines (CAMP), the University of Asia and the Pacific (US&P) and the coconut industry have registered their reactions as well. They are moving to address this vicious campaign against coconut products because virgin coconut oil is now widely considered to be a preventive against obesity.
Benigno “Ben” Peczon, the president of CAMP, agreed that this issue is vital to our rural folk because “40 percent of (our) coconut farmers live below the poverty line. . . At least 20 percent of our 350 million coconut trees are senile or 70 years old or above. All the existing Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) stations can produce only one million good seedlings per annum.”
He added: “Nuts per tree (yield) in the Philippines is less than 50 per tree per annum. Other countries produce twice as much. The coco levy funds have not been released as of the present. Some P63 billion is parked at the Bureau of Treasury and earns zero interest.”
Oscar Santos of Alabat island, a former congressman who is a dedicated coconut industry reform advocate and who knows the coconut industry like his own hand, told a dzRP early morning program “Ang Maestro Atbp” said:
“After 40 years of fighting for their rights and the coconut levy fund (which has been ruled by the courts as the coconut farmers’ money), nothing has been received by the farmers. And they are feeling hopeless.” Yes, they are the poorest of our poor.
Dr. Emil Javier, former University of the Philippines president and CAMP chairman, has given a detailed reaction to the AHA and WHO dietary advice. I will be writing on it in next week’s column.
There must a concerted drive to make government policymakers and Cabinet members more informed about this fake information drive of the American soybean and corn oil industries because of its impact on the Asean region and particularly the Philippines. (Continued next Monday)