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mpoc-and-consumerDo we root for Malaysian palm oil? Of course we do! We are the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC). We love palm oil. This is our greatest strength. At the same time, it is our weakness.

As an organisation, our mission is to promote the Malaysian palm oil industry. And we are passionate about it. We know what brings pain to our farmers. We are familiar with the technical problems of milling crude palm oil. We deal on a daily basis with the complexities of the value chain until our product finds its way to you.

This focus on providing a top quality product to customers and information to stakeholders can sometimes make us forget about you, the consumer. We might miss the fact that you have questions about the global palm oil industry, and that these questions frequently go unanswered.

The benefits of palm oil are so self-evident to us that we assume everyone else can see them, too. We often do not take time to explain what is fact and what is fiction in the public debate about palm oil. We forget that you do not know what we know. But we want to change that.

We recognise that the lack of objective information has allowed many myths to develop and take hold. Beliefs that are patently wrong have become the accepted norm in the public discussion.

Palm oil is the most consumed vegetable oil on the planet by far. But the very success of our product has led to negative claims in some quarters about its nutritional properties and the environmental aspects of cultivating oil palm.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The MPOC accepts that the Malaysian palm oil industry must uphold its social responsibility. We are in favour of protecting our natural patrimony to the full extent possible. And we welcome public scrutiny of what we do.

Palm oil and nutrition

In our opinion, the pendulum often swings to an extreme where allegations against palm oil have nothing to do with reality. You, the consumer, may hear that palm oil is not good for your health. This information comes from different sources, some with an economic agenda of their own.

However, this does not square with the latest scientific evidence. The alleged negative health effects of palm oil usually are said to have to do with its relatively high content of saturated fats.

Forget for a moment that palm oil contains a smaller amount of saturated fats than dairy butter. Nutrition experts have, for a number of years now, pointed out that fat belongs in a healthy diet – and the notion that fat per se is bad for you is an outdated belief.

In 2014, a book by Nina Teicholz conquered the bestseller lists of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The British weekly The Economist named it ‘Book of the Year’. Its title: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.

In summary, the book shows that foods rich in saturated fats do not cause heart disease. In fact, as part of a healthy diet, they actually are good for you.

In a review, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated: ‘This book should be read by every nutritional science professional as a guide to risks of hubris. Teicholz compiled a historical treatise on how scientific belief (vs evidence), non-government organisations, food manufacturers, government agencies and moneyed interests promised more than they could deliver and, in the process, quite possibly contributed to the current worldwide obesity epidemic.’[1]

All this should amount to nothing less than a re-evaluation of the nutritional guidelines to which we have become accustomed. It is something many interested parties will not tell you. But we think you should know about it.

Palm oil and the environment

In Western Europe, most schoolchildren are led to repeat the mantra that ‘palm oil kills the orang utan in the few rainforests that are left in Southeast Asia’.

We have no intention of denying that cultivating the oil palm – like any economic activity – does have some consequences for the environment. But truth should not be driven from the debate like a wild animal from its habitat.

Let’s first look at the issue of deforestation. In spite of what you may have heard, Malaysia retains an amazing 67% of its land area under tree cover, according to World Bank data.[2] Malaysia is ranked 19th in the world. In short, there are only 18 countries that have more trees on their territory.

The global demand for palm oil is strong and rising. It is not only used for luxury articles like cosmetics and candy. The largest importers are China and India, which use it mainly to feed their people.

It is here that the competitive advantage of the oil palm comes into its own. It is the most efficient oil crop by far. Its productivity – measured in yield (tonnes per hectare of land) – is up to 10 times higher than that of competitors.

In addition, palm oil production requires lower use of agrochemicals (fertilisers and pesticides) and fossil fuels (for power generation, milling or transport) than other oil crops. This results in the best energy balance of all major oil crops.

The assessment is made with an input-output analysis that compares the amount of energy necessary for the production of one tonne of vegetable oil. The input-output ratio is expressed in gigajoules per hectare (GJ/ha). The exact ratio will of course vary according to the production conditions and intended use of the end product, say cooking oil versus biofuels.

Studies indicate that the energy efficiency of palm oil is more than three times that of the second-best in class, rapeseed oil. And almost four times more efficient than soybean oil. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Energy requirement in oil production

energy-requirements-oil-production

Source: Wood & Corley[3]

According to Oil World, an independent analyst of the oilseed industry, the global land area under palm cultivation is roughly 14 million ha. If that sounds like a lot, consider this: France´s territory is 64 million ha. [4] So, all the oil palm trees grown worldwide add up to no more than one-fifth of the area of Europe´s largest country. And Malaysia´s share of this is only around 5.6 million ha.

Little wonder, then, that Malaysia has successfully maintained at least 50% of its land under forest cover, much of it in protected areas. No Western European country comes even close in this respect

Misperceptions are bad for everybody: for the consumer, for farmers and for the environment. You – the end-user of our product – have a right to objective and truthful information.


[1] Available at: http://thebigfatsurprise.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/AJCN-Review.pdf
[2] Available at: http://goo.gl/umVgbo
[3] Wood, BJ and RHV Corley (1991), The energy balance of oil palm cultivation. Proceedings of the 1991 PORIM International Palm Oil Conference
[4] Available at: http://www.simedarby.com/upload/Palm_Oil_Facts_and_Figures.pdf

 

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