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Soppoa: EU’s decision for deforestation-free products regulations ‘unjust’

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

KUCHING (April 22): The Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) today asserted that the European Union’s (EU) recent decision to adopt the Deforestation-Free Products Regulations is unjust.

ts chairman Eric Kiu said such regulations are meant to restrict or prohibit the import of palm oil to the EU if the supply chain does not meet their open-ended criteria. — Bernama photo

Its chairman Eric Kiu said such regulations are meant to restrict or prohibit the import of palm oil to the EU if the supply chain does not meet their open-ended criteria. — Bernama photo

Its chairman Eric Kiu said such regulations are meant to restrict or prohibit the import of palm oil to the EU if the supply chain does not meet their open-ended criteria.

“In retrospect, Western countries have organised countless smear campaigns against palm oil — back in the 80s, palm oil was accused of having the potential to cause cardiovascular disease linked to trans fatty acids.

“Subsequent scientific findings proved that not only does palm oil not contain trans fatty acids, it is a better substitute to other cooking oils such as soybean, corn, sunflower and safflower, which degrade faster at higher cooking temperatures during frying and baking,” he said in a statement today.

Kiu said that due to its semi-solid nature, palm oil can be incorporated into foods without the need for hydrogenation — a process involving chemical reactions to make liquid vegetable oils to become more solid or spreadable.

He added that palm oil is also one of the most abundant natural sources of vitamin E, containing 30 per cent tocopherols and 70 per cent tocotrienols, and carotenoids.

“Vitamin E is an important antioxidant. Diets high in vitamin E are associated with decreased risk of some types of cancer, heart disease, and age-related macular degeneration.

“Carotenoids, which are the pre-cursor of vitamin A, are essential for growth, immune system function, and eye health,” he said.

Despite all the scientific evidences showing palm oil is trans fat-free and healthy, Kiu regretted that palm oil continued to be demonised by much misinformation.

He said the past decade had witnessed the anti-palm oil sentiments focused on the concern over the deforestation and wildlife killing.

On contrary to the accusation, he said palm oil in Malaysia was planted on legitimate agricultural land which are mostly previously cultivated agricultural land, degraded forest areas rezoned for agriculture, and land under the land use policy of the state.

In the context of conservation, he said the government had decided to cap the country’s oil palm plantations at 6.5 million hectare by 2023 in a move to dispel the claim that the expansion of oil palm plantations had led to deforestation.

Currently, Malaysia still has 56 per cent of forested areas across the country, while other part of the world is facing forest degradation due to development, he noted.

“The Malaysian palm oil industry is one of the most highly regulated with legislation and regulations in place to ensure that it adheres to domestic and international standards.

“Numerous efforts are in place for conservation and green initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Plantation and Commodities (KPK) has set up the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Fund focusing on activities such as forest tree replanting, minimising human-animal conflict and biodiversity conservation.

“Additionally, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification Scheme, made mandatory from Jan 1, 2020, has enhanced the value of Malaysian palm oil by minimising the carbon footprint of the industry by promoting sustainable business, environmental, and wildlife practices among Malaysian palm oil producers that cover oil palm plantations, independent and organised smallholdings, and palm oil processing facilities,” he said.

According to Kiu, the oil palm tree is the most efficient oil crop in terms of land use, with the highest yield compared to other oil crops per hectare of land.

Among major oilseed crops, he said oil palm accounted for the smallest percentage (under six per cent) of all the cultivated land for oils and fats globally, but produced the largest percentage (about 40 per cent) of total output.

In simple terms, he said it used less than half the land required by other crops (such as sunflower, soybean or rapeseed oil) to produce the same amount of oil.

“For comparison, oil produces from per hectare of land for oil palm is 3.8 mt, rapeseed is 0.8 mt, sunflower is 0.7 mt, and soy is 0.5 mt,” he added.

Kiu further pointed out that palm oil was in nearly everything; close to 50 per cent of the packaged products find in grocery stores.

He said this was because palm oil had diverse functional properties.

For food, Kiu said palm oil was good at keeping spreadable since it was semi-solid at room temperature, stable at high temperatures and is odourless and colourless so it will not affect the look or smell of food products.

For non-food applications, he said palm oil was in beauty products such as shampoo, lipstick and soap to name a few since its methyl esters, commonly known as palm biodiesel, was a clean burning renewal fuel.

“The applications of palm oil has grown significantly over times, and quickly shows signs of replacing the oilseeds grown in the EU. In addition, price competitiveness of palm oil has added advantage over other oils.

“This has triggered their nerves and caused serious concern as they are losing domestic market share to palm oil. To the EU, import ban on palm oil is a quick fix,” he opined.

According to Kiu, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) data indicates that the EU accounts for 9.4 per cent of Malaysia’s export volume last year.

“It fell from the previous year to 1.47 mil mt, and a 40 per cent plunge from 2.43 mil mt in 2015. With the new regulation, the export of palm oil to the EU will be further reduced in years to come.

“The implications of such ban extend far beyond conservation or wildlife will jeopardise millions of smallholders farmers who depend on palm oil for their livelihood, increase the price of consumables as they are manufactured using more expensive edible oil compares to palm oil, and is hugely detrimental to promote discrimination,” he said.

He observed that the Malaysian government has been diplomatic in addressing the unjust EU’s deforestation regulation that aimed to protect their domestic market.

He said Soppoa would extend its full support to Deputy Prime Minister Dato Sri Fadillah Yusof during this challenging time.

“We strongly believe the forthcoming decision make by the minister serves the best interest of the Malaysian palm oil industry, and we urge all Malaysian palm oil producers to rally behind the Minister,” Kiu added.