THIS is an open letter to the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt.
It was reported that the European Union has decided to phase out the use of palm oil by 2030. It is understandable that the Western edible oil industry has launched a vicious campaign against palm oil out of commercial interest.
But when governments side with the for-profit industry in phasing out the import of palm oil without careful consideration of the facts, then it calls into question fairness and democratic principles that Western countries often preach.
Campaigns against palm oil have been mainly on two issues. First, the deforestation and environmental destruction caused by oil palm cultivation. Second, the high saturated fats content in palm oil, which is deemed unhealthy.
It is true that in the past, vast pieces of land had been cleared for oil palm cultivation. That was during the administration of the previous government.
Our present government is different. Environmental and health protection takes precedence now.
Criticism of Malaysia’s fast deforestation has been unfair. According to a World Bank report in 2018, 67.6% of the total land area in Malaysia comprises forests.
In contrast, for Britain it is 13%, France (31%), Germany (32.7%), Italy (31.6%), United States (33.9%), and Canada (38.2%).
Furthermore, livestock and soy farming in the west cause more deforestation than oil palm cultivation. Canola, soy and corn plants use more pesticides and herbicides than oil palm.
The criticism towards palm oil as unhealthy because of its high content of saturated fats has flaws. The lipid or cholesterol theory of heart disease is paradoxical to the understanding of human physiology. Our liver has to synthesise the different types of cholesterol to maintain normal physiology.
In 2015, the US and British governments lifted butter, eggs, meat, etc, from the ‘naughty food list’, when studies contradicting the lipid/cholesterol theory of heart disease started to surface in the preceding years.
In 2017, the British Royal Pharmaceutical Society pronounced the cholesterol theory of heart disease dead, effectively stating that cholesterol was not the cause of heart disease.
Malaysians have been consuming palm and coconut oils (both high in saturated fats) all our lives. The prevalence of heart disease here is much lower than in western countries that consume more canola, soy and corn oils (mostly from genetically modified crops).
Claims that canola and other oils with unsaturated fats are healthy have no support from any proper study. In fact, the Lauretti and Pratico study in 2017 published in the Journal of Scientific Reports associated consumption of canola oil with worsening memory and learning ability and weight gain in an animal study.
Another study in 2014 by Marchese and colleagues found vitamin E in canola, soybean and corn oils associated with rising incidences of lung infection and asthma. However, vitamin E from olive and sunflower oils (both non-GMO) improves lung functions.
Palm oil has the best source of vitamin E because it consists of tocotrienols and tocopeherols. Corn oil has a small amount of tocotrienols while canola and soybean oils have none, but only tocopherols, making the quality of vitamin E in these oils of inferior quality.
Incidentally, Malaysia’s vitamin E, extracted from palm oil, is the best in the world. There are several studies pointing to the other benefits of palm oil other than high-quality vitamin E.
The intention here is to make the case for palm oil and not impose on consumers in Europe what oil they should consume. It is an appalling lack of consideration for governments to ban the import of palm oil.
CAPT DR WONG ANG PENG (RTD)
President, Society of Natural Health Malaysia
Member, National Patriot Association