Margarine allegedly passed off as butter in Malaysian supermarkets

A popular brand of imported butter sold at Malaysian supermarkets was in fact made with vegetable fat.
A popular brand of imported butter sold at Malaysian supermarkets was in fact made with vegetable fat. PHOTO: CHRIS TAN

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Well-known supermarkets have been selling margarine disguised as butter or as butter blends, claimed consumer rights advocate Justin Fitzpatrick.

Speaking to Malaysian newspaper The Star Online, Mr Fitzpatrick said that he had found out that a popular brand of imported butter sold at local supermarkets was in fact made with vegetable fat.

"At first I noticed the supermarket had a special offer, and I thought it was really cheap. However, when I read the list of ingredients, I found out that it is made using vegetable fat," he said.

Mr Fitzpatrick added that he contacted the supplier, and he said the supplier first told him that the product was butter.

He then said that when pressed, the supplier then said that the product in question was a butter blend.

"Technically, the supplier should not even call it a butter blend unless they can prove how much butter is in there. If you look at the ingredients, there is no percentage of how much butter is in there, so how can you call it butter," said Mr Fitzpatrick.

Mr Fitzpatrick added that any product labeled as a butter blend should have a butter content of at least 10 per cent, and said that many Malaysians had been misled for years as they were unaware of the ingredients of what they were buying.

He also blamed supermarkets for feigning ignorance and allowing the suppliers to sell it as butter.

"It is the cheapest butter but the most expensive margarine," he said.

Meanwhile, Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E Siong clarified that butter is made from animal fat, which can be obtained from sources like cow's milk, whereas margarine is made from plant oils.

He pointed out that Regulation 103 and Regulation 105 of the Food Regulations Act 1985 clearly states that butter must be made exclusively from milk, cream or both while margarine can be made from any edible fat or oil.

"Food regulations in this country are very clear on the definitions of butter and margarine as they are both completely different. If the ingredient list says that the product is made from butter fat, then it is butter and not margarine," said Dr Tee.

He explained that the list of ingredients of a product requires that the main components be listed first on the packaging or label,

Dr Tee added that the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives, and Consumerism can take action against a company if it labels margarine as butter as the company will be in breach of the labeling provisions under the Food Act 1983.

Asked about the product identified by Mr Fitzpatrick, Dr Tee had several points to make after examining photos of the product.

"Notice the colon after 'vegetable hydrogenated fat'. This means that this product contains smaller amounts of copra, butter milk and butter than vegetable hydrogenated fat," said Dr Tee.

He added that it would be very difficult for this product to be accepted legally as butter.

"It would be difficult to accept this product as butter, if we go by Regulation 103 for butter. This product can probably be called margarine," he said.