Talking Points from MPOC’s New Information Campaign
On Sept 7, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) initiated a mark of provenance and an information campaign in France and Belgium. At the launch in Paris, prominent personalities from Malaysia explained the rationale of the campaign and how it will address consumer concerns, thereby enabling individuals to arrive at an informed opinion about Malaysian Palm Oil. A summary follows.
Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of MPOC
- MPOC is very excited about our new information initiative, and I hope it will lead to a better and more positive understanding of palm oil among consumers. I hope too that you will learn some interesting facts and see for yourselves the pride that we have in agriculture and food production in our country, just as you have pride in what you produce in your country.
- Palm oil is one of Malaysia’s most valuable export products. Malaysia currently has 5.4 million ha under oil palm, producing 19.7 million tonnes of palm oil and 2.3 million tonnes of palm kernel oil. The bulk of this is for food production – either used as cooking oil or a food ingredient.
- Oil palm development has brought enormous benefits to Malaysia. It has contributed greatly to both poverty reduction and prosperity increase in recent decades. Malaysian Palm Oil is a commodity that truly distributes wealth throughout the population, including in formerly poor rural areas. Almost 40% of oil palm plantations are operated by small farmers.
- On behalf of all of small farmers and others in the Malaysian industry, I say ‘Thank you’ to France. It was a Frenchman called Henri Fauconnier who founded the first oil palm plantation in then Malaya, in 1911. His legacy has been to give small farmers the opportunity of a stable income and prospects for their children; whole rural areas that have been developed and transformed; and of course a world-leading R&D and food technology sector.
- Sadly, many misunderstandings exist about palm oil. Several myths have found their way into public discourse in France and Belgium. The myth has been spread about palm oil containing trans fats – which is untrue. Palm oil is actually a worldwide replacement for trans fats, improving health outcomes as a result.
Equally, some have alleged that palm oil is a major source of saturated fats in the diet of the French and Belgian public – which is also untrue. Meat and dairy provide most of the saturated fats in Europe.
- These myths, unfortunately, have led to some negative sentiments in France, and Belgium. MPOC is aware that some NGOs and others have launched aggressive attacks against palm oil, often with false claims. We are keen to address those claims in the work that we are launching today.
I think perhaps some progress is being made: I notice that Minister Segolene Royal was rather negative about palm oil due to the pre-existing myths, until perhaps she was informed of the reality. We’re pleased that Ms Royal has changed her mind, and we hope that with this new campaign we can change the minds of many more people in France and Belgium.
- Why are we launching this campaign? Because Europe is an important partner for Malaysian Palm Oil, and we must counter the myths that exist. Apart from small farmers, over one million workers in Malaysia depend on palm oil for their livelihood. Those in Europe who think that anti-palm oil campaigns are ‘risk-free’ – especially when these are based on false science – must think again. Real people, real families, in Malaysia and elsewhere, are negatively affected by the myths that have been spread about palm oil in Europe.
MPOC has a responsibility to protect our farmers and workers, and we take this seriously. This new campaign is about education, truth and balance. We want to share facts and information with consumers in France and Belgium, so that they can decide for themselves.
Facts are important in public debate:
- Palm oil has zero trans fats – this is a scientific fact. Palm oil has actually helped to lower trans fats consumption.
- All serious scientists know that palm oil is not a major contributor to the saturated fats intake of Europeans.
- Palm oil – like all oils and fats – is perfectly healthy as part of a balanced diet. Scientists and health institutions around the world can confirm that palm oil is not hazardous or dangerous. It is a normal and natural fat, like butter.
- I think it is important to note that palm oil benefits not only Malaysia but also Europe. MPOC commissioned a major economic study that shows the positive impact of palm oil in Europe. Some examples include:
- In France, palm oil imports are linked to 4,600 jobs.
- 323 million EUR of French GDP is associated with palm oil imports.
- Palm oil imports provide 167 million EUR of tax revenue in France.
- In Belgium, 1,000 jobs are linked to palm oil imports; 57 million EUR of GDP benefits; and 29 million EUR in tax revenue.
- The overall benefits for the EU are 5.7 billion EUR in GDP increase; 2.6 billion EUR in tax revenue; and 117,000 jobs.
Mr Carl Bek-Nielsen, Vice-Chairman of United Plantations Bhd
- In Malaysia, we are aware that there are misunderstandings about palm oil and probably also a level of scepticism among consumers in Europe; some of these may be justified. Perhaps part of that is because palm oil itself is not European – the oil palm cannot grow here because of the colder climate. It is therefore not an agricultural food crop that many Europeans have ever seen or become familiar with.
- Unfortunately, we cannot bring everyone in France or Belgium to Malaysia to get a first-hand impression for themselves. Therefore, it is important to help create better awareness and to provide more information about Malaysian Palm Oil: in other words we would like to share with consumers what this crop is all about. The Malaysian Palm Oil brand will hopefully succeed in doing this.
- In this connection, it is important for us every once in a while to look at the situation more holistically and take a balanced view, so to speak. In this respect one of the more dividing views has to do with deforestation and linking this to palm oil. None of us here can or will refute that deforestation has taken place within Malaysia.
In fact, across the world, the increasing demands of a growing population and changing diets have compelled farmers to grow more crops, resulting in conversion of forests for agriculture – be this in France, Brazil the US or in Malaysia. But the important aspect today is to try and create a better balance between economy and ecology, thus arriving at a common ground where conservation means development as much as it does protection.
- In Malaysia we are trying hard to improve this balance by embracing more sustainable measures, while still maintaining about 60% of our land-bank under forests as per the latest report by the United Nations. This is not perfect, but it shines when comparing the forest cover of many developed nations, such as the UK with 12%, Holland with 11%, or for that matter the EU with 38%.
Yes, we in Malaysia are far from perfect but we wish to maintain that important balance, so that present and future generations can progress without undermining the benefits of having a rich environment. We have to work more on this and I can assure you that there is an ambition to do so.
- Indeed, the Malaysian Palm Oil industry has developed best practices on environmental and biological standards, and many Malaysian companies are world leaders at implementing these today. I would like to give you examples:
- Pest control: We practise integrated pest management, for example building houses for barn owls to live on the plantations. The owls are natural predators for rats and help to ‘check mate’ the rat population.
- Pheromone traps: Instead of spraying insecticides, we use natural pheromones as a biological control against the harmful rhinoceros beetle.
- Planting of beneficial flowering plants: These attract good insects. It is like what French wine farmers do with roses in vineyards, to contain leaf-eating pests without using pesticides. Most Malaysian plantation companies’ use of pesticides is about 40-45 times lower per tonne of palm oil produced compared to soybean farmers and 6-8 times less per tonne oil compared to rapeseed farmers.
- GMO-free: Palm oil from Malaysia is 100% free of genetically modified organisms; this fact is perhaps not well-known in Europe.
- Perhaps one of the more important environmental considerations about the oil palm is its ability to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into vegetable oil. Here, the oil palm is at the very front of the pack.
Just consider this – to produce 1 tonne of vegetable oil, the oil palm only needs to occupy 0.26 ha, whereas rapeseed needs 1.52 ha and soybean needs 2.22 ha. So the agricultural footprint required to produce the same amount of oil is almost 6 to 8.5 times more for rapeseed and soybean. But more can be done and we are intent on producing more with less and targeting to reach only 0.15 ha to make 1 tonne of oil in the near future.
- In conclusion, I would say that Malaysian Palm Oil is produced by both large plantations and smallholders – ordinary people who make up about 40% of production. Together we produce oils and fats, just as you produce colza, butter or red wine.
We are not perfect, nor do we claim to be. This campaign is not about claiming to be perfect: it is to shed more light on an important agricultural crop and to create awareness, so that myths can be overcome and a more balanced approach taken by the consumer – so he or she can judge for themselves and make informed decisions based on facts and not emotional rhetoric.