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Let facts talk!

Dr. Kalyana Sundram, the CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) spoke on “Malaysia’s Commitment, Compliance, and Progress in Producing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil for the Global Markets.”

In his presentation, Dr. Sundram did not mince words.

For starters, he pointed to some indisputable facts even people close to environmentalist circles often do not know or choose to ignore. After all, sometimes facts are hard to swallow.

EPOC-8Jan2018-pic1First, Dr. Sundram spoke about the concept of deforestation. We are all used to hearing statements like “in the tropics, this year x number of hectares of land have been deforested.” What comes as a surprise to many is that it is far from clear what precisely such numbers mean.

There are many reasons for that. It may sound like splitting hairs at first, but it is, in fact, enlightening to realize that there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a “forest.”

Secondly, deforestation is anything but easy to observe. For lack of better data, many studies rely on satellite data – which has multiple known issues.

The result of this confusion is that numbers are bandied about on the scale of global deforestation that may diverge by several hundred million hectares!

So Dr. Sundram rightfully reminded the audience: has anyone noticed that while the European Parliament´s Resolution on Palm Oil and the Deforestation of Rainforests speaks of 13 million deforested hectares globally per year, the FAO puts the number at a fraction of this: 3.3 million!?

After this eye-opener Dr. Sundram moved on to some of the things we do know for sure:

  • Well over 50% of Malaysia´s land area is covered by trees (to be sure: not counting the oil palm) – a promise the country made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and keeps until today.
  • That is far more than any member country of the EU – far more!


  • On top of this, it must not be forgotten that Europe itself exploits its forests: around 3.5 million jobs EU-wide are linked to the forestry sector. And only about 50% of the forests involved are certified in any shape or form.
  • While Southeast Asian countries frequently are criticized for cultivating oil palm trees in peatland, European countries like Finland, Sweden, and Ireland unbelievably burn enormous amounts of peat in power plants. Studies find that during the 2000s, the annual average burned was equivalent to 3.3 million tons of fossil oil!
  • Countrywide Malaysia expends considerable efforts to conserve its wildlife and biodiversity. Just to give a few examples: The Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) has brought hundreds of Bornean elephants and orangutans to safety. The MPOWCF, the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund operates several sanctuaries for endangered species throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Awareness programs for plantation management and workers exist, educating them on the importance of conserving biodiversity. In some areas, satellite tracking is used to study animal populations.
  • Last but not least, through the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standard (MSPO), the country´s entire industry supply chain is targeted for mandatory sustainability certification by the end of 2019.

European irrationalism

Against this background, it is even more bizarre to see the use of “No Palm Oil”-labels mushroom throughout Europe. According to Dr. Sundram, there are now more than 1.600 such products on shelves in European supermarkets. Obviously, the labels are nothing more than a marketing trick, feeding on the gloomy myths surrounding palm oil. Their implicit claims associated with beneficial health and environmental effects have no basis in reality whatsoever.

Says Dr. Sundram: “Legal experts agree that such labels are illegal. But the EU refuses to act on this matter.”

Indeed, the hostility towards palm oil in some European quarters is absurd, if not plain irresponsible. On the one hand, the “greening” policies of the EU pay farmers to maintain permanent grassland. On the other hand, there is a gap of several million metric tons between the local consumption and production of vegetable oils. What sense does it make to clobber palm oil for filling that gap?

In conclusion, Dr. Sundram asked the audience to take the following promises home with them:

“Malaysia affirms its commitment towards the supply of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) through its national MSPO standards by end 2019.

Malaysian palm oil is open to greater inter-governmental collaboration and cooperation with NGOs and industry end users, especially those of European origin, to work towards common goals of sustainability and not impose punitive actions that aim at crippling our industry and economy.”

After taking in this presentation, one wonders if the European debate on palm oil would not benefit from more open-minded, critical, yet balanced voices like those of the MPOC´s CEO.

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