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Dear Minister,

Your involvement on the TV programme of Mr. Yann Barthes could not but arouse my  profound dismay  as a specialist engineer in sustainable development. More than just a personal commitment, it is my duty to restore truth harmed by improper words (your smear against palm oil). What we understand: it is not about making your case, Minister, nor is it about defending the interests of agro-food powers like most slanderers will tend to suggest. It is above all about the man of field, the one in direct contact with small palm oil producers who expressed his incomprehension at this attack.

Why pick again the palm oil? The stigma seem difficult to soothe. But let me remind you of some essential points:

Oil palm produces 8-10 times more vegetable oil per hectare than other oil crops and thus, for the same oil production, it must occupy 8 to 10 times less surface area. This means that, in the context of a culture in a forest environment, it deforests 8 to 10 times less. Incidentally, that deforestation is no longer the norm. More and more often, oil palms are located in grassy or wooded savannah, where they participate in carbon sequestration (35 Tons of carbon per hectare) or increase biodiversity.

Thus, contrary to what is generally conveyed in the media, the use of other raw materials would lead to greater land clearing, less biodiversity and of course more use of herbicides and pesticides. 100 times less pesticide is used, to produce one tonne of palm oil compared to one ton of soybean oil.

In Malaysia, for example, the second largest producer, the FAO reports (from the UN) found that over 60 percent of the territory is still covered with forests and Malaysia uses only 24 percent of its land for agricultural development. In France, these figures are quite different: 29 percent of forest cover and 50 percent of farmland. Therefore it is difficult to give lessons to Malaysia about the protection of forests.

And even if you would not have been aware of these environmental aspects, why taking a position opposite to that of the former Prime Minister, during his trip to Malaysia? It is appropriate here to quote Jean-Marc Ayrault who, only two years ago, said: “We have to avoid misunderstandings; France is not against palm oil. ” Has France changed her mind? So did we not learn to detach ourselves from the usual vilification of palm oil?

It is difficult, in such circumstances, not questioning what you said, Madam Minister. I am looking somehow to explain what I can only describe as “slippage”. This seems even more obvious once the reality on the ground is offered to you. This oil, which also represents the ideal suspect, remains an alternative that makes sense in terms of health. When you call for a change to the recipe for chocolate  spreads, it is useful to recall that the food industry has generally tended to use partially hydrogenated oils, whose harmfulness is universally recognized. Moreover, these oils have recently been banned in the United States. Partially hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils chemically transformed to make them solid at room temperature, altering their nutritional profile to add the harmful and carcinogenic trans fatty acids.

Palm oil is a healthy and natural alternative and contains no trans fatty acids.

So I address myself directly to you, Madam Minister for Ecology: Why such talk? Do you have any personal interests to serve or was it, as I like to believe, an unfortunate blunder? I aspire to end the misunderstanding that drives a whole population of small farmers – 240,000 small farmers in Malaysia; 35,000 in Ivory Coast, etc- that tries to do its job just like any French citizen and suffers from having to undergo such accusations.

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