OIL PALM plantations have been unfairly implicated by non-government organisations as the primary driver of deforestation, but the crop takes up only 0.1% or 15.6 million ha worldwide.
On the other hand, the livestock industry in 2012 utilised 31% or 4.7 billion ha of the world’s total land area – 300 times more land area than that used by the palm oil industry, says Malaysian Palm Oil Council chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron.
He says that our agriculture industry takes up only 23% or 7.8 million ha in the country, while we have set aside a vast forest reserve of 18.3 million ha, or 56.5% of land area.
“We have much more forest reserve compared to Western countries,” he says.
Yusof adds that this fallacy regarding oil palm and deforestation perpetuated by NGOs stems from a lack of research done on the crop.
“The NGOs are concerned about the rapid rate of land clearing and the palm oil industry is ‘greenmailed’ as the driver of deforestation which is untrue. For the NGOs, we are ‘greenwashing’ but for us they are ‘greenmailing’ the industry,” he says at the sideline of the recent Reach & Remind Friends of the Industry Seminar 2015 & Dialogue.
Furthermore, oil palm plantations are a “net carbon sink” that absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere daily, which mitigates climate change, says Yusof.
“Oil palm removes 1,719 to 1,897 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, reducing the carbon debt of the industry over time,” he says.
Among the criteria for Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification is that oil palm should not be cultivated on forest reserve land.
This is not a newly introduced criterion but “an ongoing practice” all this while, notes Yusof.
On the nutritional value of palm oil, Yusof says studies have shown that saturated fats from this vegetable oil is beneficial to health.
“The assumption that saturated fats at any level of intake is deleterious is no longer supported by scientific evidence. Studies also show that the components such as palm phenolics in palm oil may even help reduce the risk of cancer,” he says.
Yusof denounces the “no palm oil” labelling campaign in Europe as “misleading, mischievous and illegal under the viewpoint of food legislations.”
Moving forward, he says that branding efforts to position Malaysian palm oil as a premium brand would improve global demand for the oil.
“Malaysian palm oil is superior, responsible, and a better choice for consumers as it is supported by the MSPO, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification, and it is deforestation-free,” he concludes. – Zunaira Saieed
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