Sustainability through advanced Malaysian palm oil biofuels

The development of advanced biofuels and biomass from palm oil is one of the most exciting technological advances being undertaken in the Malaysian palm oil industry. Palm oil is the world’s most efficient and sustainable oilseed crop; so it is natural that it can be a vital source for renewable energy around the world – whether from empty fresh fruit bunches and other organic material or from leftover palm oil mill effluent.

The possibilities for palm oil to be used in next-generation biomass and biofuels are numerous. It is important, however, that the right regulation is in place to take advantage of this.

Since 2012, the EU has been debating a revision to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) – a regime for mandating the use of biofuels and biomass. Malaysian palm oil biofuel and biomass have been an important contributor to the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, ever since renewable energy targets were introduced. Palm oil renewables from Malaysia have been certified by the German certification system, ISCC, and palm oil is used in many EU member-states as a sustainable, renewable fuel.

However, recent revision of the RED led to the usual campaigns in an attempt to smear and undermine Malaysian palm oil. Green NGOs, led by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, attempted to introduce a new criterion – indirect land-use change (ILUC). This was a wholly unscientific attempt to hijack the debate on palm oil biofuels.

It is easy to tell the viability of ILUC when we examine the two sides to the argument. On the side promoting ILUC (which would restrict the amount of palm oil biofuels used in Europe), we find the Green NGOs; some elements of the protectionist European industry; and many leftist politicians in Brussels. On the opposing side (arguing that a fair, level playing field is needed) we find the scientific community in Europe and around the world; economic and statistical analysts; international trade experts; and biofuel producers.

Once again, the NGOs found themselves arguing the anti-scientific case. Once again, the advice of scientists and experts was that the NGOs must be ignored. Fortunately, this coalition of scientists, experts, economists, industry and sensible European politicians prevailed. The major challenge of ILUC was defeated in the vote in the European Parliament, and was rejected by the governments of member-states.

However, ILUC was not the only challenge for Malaysian palm oil, in terms of renewable energy in the EU. Socialist Members of the European Parliament introduced amendments calling for advanced palm oil biomass and biofuels to be excluded from the European market.

This outrageous attempt at full discrimination against palm oil would have harmed thousands of producers and companies across Malaysia. The high-tech development of advanced palm biomass and biofuels is a potentially lucrative and high-added value sector for Malaysia in the future: a big part of this was threatened with the amendment that would have closed off the EU market. Again, this amendment was defeated thanks to sensible decision making and good arguments put forward that such discrimination would be unjustified and would probably be illegal under international trade rules.

The end result of the legislative process in Brussels was that two major threats to Malaysian palm oil have been defeated – the full implementation of ILUC has been avoided; and the proposed direct discrimination against advanced palm oil biomass has been rejected.

We must never become complacent. It is clear that the opponents of Malaysian palm oil will use any opportunity to launch attacks. Even following the final vote on this amendment to the RED, there is the possibility of future discrimination against Malaysian producers. The EU has the power to change the situation and to potentially restrict imports of Malaysian palm oil.

We must be vigilant against future attacks. Malaysian palm oil is moving forward with new investments, better research and new technologies, and the world-leading MSPO sustainability standard. Our competitors and opponents will continue to try to undermine this progress. It is fundamental for our future that we never allow this to happen.

Dr Yusof Basiron


The key issues for global importers, buyers and users of soybean and its products have long been price, quality and punctual shipment. Soybean processors always wanted low foreign material, damage and moisture, as well as high protein and oil content. Soymeal buyers required high protein content and low fibre, while soybean oil buyers valued good colour and low levels of free fatty acids. That made global trade in those commodities relatively simple even if there were frequent disputes among buyers and sellers.

This all changed with the release of herbicide-tolerant soybean for production in 1996. Soon after, environmental and consumer groups in Europe began to stir public concern about the supposed risks to human health and the environment from biotech crops. The characterisation of these crops as ‘Frankenfoods’ and other such derisive terms scared EU politicians into establishing complex regulations for their cultivation and the labelling of foods containing such ingredients.

Food retailers also began catering to consumer fears by promoting the sale of chicken meat, pork and other animal proteins as having not been produced using biotech feed ingredients. Thus, biotech content became a new factor in the global trade of soybean and related products that continues to this day in Europe and elsewhere.

Over time, many food manufacturers, retailers and some governments began to realise they had made a mistake in capitulating to the fear-mongering of biotech critics. As the price premiums for non-biotech soybean meal increased, animal producers began to also demand premiums for their products from food manufacturers and retailers. In many cases, retailers that had promoted the sales of pork and poultry meat raised on non-biotech feeds began searching for something else to promote that was less costly. The issue that many companies chose to promote their products with was sustainability. Environmental groups have been increasing pressure on companies to make their products more sustainable by using less energy and water while emitting fewer pollutants into the atmosphere.

Of prime importance to the oilseed sector, the environmental groups as well as governments demanded that companies reduce incentives to clear rainforests, grassland and other critical habitats for the production of oilseeds, animal protein and various foods.

Highest on the list of concerns was the clearing of rainforests to plant oil palm in Southeast Asia and Africa and to produce soybean in Brazil as well as elsewhere in the Amazon Basin. Critics charged that by promoting habitat destruction, the companies were accelerating climate change through increased carbon dioxide emissions.

Realising there is no feasible way to continue producing the palm oil and soybean the world will need in the future without expanding the area planted to those crops, major international companies developed organisations to reduce the negative environmental effects of such growth.

Together with trade associations in concert with a few moderate environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, they created the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS).

The two organisations established a set of rules that palm oil and soybean producers had to follow in order to be certified as sustainably responsible. The rules cover issues like protection of rainforests, labour and land rights, and community relations. Those wanting to be certified producers have to adhere to the rules, as well as be subject to third-party inspections to assure compliance.

A high level of low density lipoproteins (LDL) could lead to cardiovascular disease, especially in the absence of balanced nutrition and general neglect of health. Fatty plaques accumulate around vessels and arteries, and aggravate the condition to the point of no return. However, disaster can be averted by following simple precautions for a healthy lifestyle.

Calculating the body mass index (BMI) has become a well-known tool in measuring the impact of dietary changes and determining the risk of heart disease. However, the waist circumference is a more effective indicator of cardiovascular risks. Knowing the BMI, measuring the waist, and regularly checking the weight will help in warning of a high cholesterol level.


In children Fats accumulate in the intima but the phenomenon is quite natural; this is why children are usually considered out of danger. (The vessel walls comprise three layer : Intima, Media and Adventitia.)
In women Hormones have a protective role until menopause. This explains the reason for the high probability of arterial inflammation or angina in women after the age of 50.
In men Problems arise early depending on personal lifestyle and genetic history.

Normal weight is between 19 and 25. It is natural for the BMI to increase with age even though the person is following the same dietary pattern. When the BMI is less than 18, it is in the underweight category and the risk of anorexia is increased. When the BMI is more than 25, it is in the overweight category and may lead to obesity. The waist circumference should not exceed 80cm for women and 102cm for men.

We often notice high cholesterol levels in those over 50 years old, but this may affect younger persons as well. Some people suffer from obesity or hypercholesterolemia due to heredity. It is necessary to inform the doctor about the family health history, to help determine what precautionary measures to take. Often, patients are advised to decrease consumption of products with a high glycaemic index. Vegetables, fruit and whole grains have a low glycaemic index, compared to bread, rice, fries and sweets.

Keeping a check on cholesterol
 Nutrition Colesterol Care
Periodic blood test

There is no need to apply this evaluation during adolescence, but it is necessary after the age of 40. Based on the test results, the cholesterol level should be monitored every two to three years at least. Patients often refuse to consult their doctor regarding a high cholesterol level, with their main excuse being ‘no time’. However, from the age of 50, it is better for the patient to monitor the basic indicators related to high cholesterol level, as prevention is better than treatment.

Limit intake of saturated fats

The first step is to be able to differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fats – we tend to name these as ‘bad’ fats or ‘good’ fats. The descriptions are not accurate because extra fats are bad for the body, whether saturated or not. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop some media outlets and dietitians from encouraging the consumption of ‘good’ fats, meaning unsaturated fats found in oily nuts and fatty fish specifically. Unsaturated fats remain in a liquid state when cooked at a low temperature. Monounsaturated fats lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol level in blood, while polyunsaturated fats work on the total cholesterol level.

Consume omega-3

Omega fatty acids help in the functioning of the vascular and cardiac systems, as well as protect them. As the body cannot make omega fatty acids, these must come from food sources. The fatty acids include not only omega-3, but also omega-6 and omega-9 found in some oils such as sunflower oil and soybean oil. One problem today is that the nutritional pattern lacks essential fatty acids. The consumption of sardines, walnuts and almonds has decreased, while fresh fish has become quite expensive.

Eat fruit and vegetables

Those who have a high cholesterol level are advised to maintain a balanced diet. This should include fruit and vegetables as these are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and therefore have a role in preventing the formation of fatty plaques on the walls of vessels. Studies have showed that the lack of certain substances enhances LDL oxidation – for example, a deficit in Vitamins C and E, polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, dietary plant fibres and calcium.

Get regular exercise

To boost the effect of the new nutritional pattern, add physical activity. This will help decrease the LDL level and increase the level of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol. Create an exercise programme that takes into consideration your age and general health status, and which keeps you motivated to work out. If you have not been active, begin slowly and increase the intensity gradually.

Drink sufficient water

Hydrating the body will revitalise it and help in maintaining a perfect weight. Doctors recommend drinking 1.5-2 litres of water per day. You can substitute part of the intake with healthy liquids like green tea or fresh juices.

Control blood pressure

Hypertension increases the risk of myocardial infarction. Visiting the doctor is a way to have peace of mind. Beverages that act as stimulants (coffee, tea or energy drinks) can increase blood pressure, as does salt. So, reduce intake.


Stop smoking

Smoking is bad for health in general, and also increases the LDL cholesterol level. Smokers should stop this habit early. Often, cessation will make the body gain weight. A suitable diet and routine exercise will help.

Boost vitamins after menopause

The dietary pattern usually provides all the nutrients needed by the body. However, the body may not get enough of some essential nutrients in some situations. In women, this becomes obvious after menopause. Without the protective effect of hormones, it is common for women to experience a lack of iron and Vitamin D, for instance. This is not dangerous but we recommend a general check-up after the first blood analysis following menopause.

Maintain the diet

Some will find it easy to commit to a particular diet or weight maintenance programme, while others find it an ordeal. Ask for help where necessary. Note that emotional trauma can be translated in the body by an increase or a decrease in weight. Those with hypercholesterolemia will have to keep to a steady and balanced nutritional pattern for life.

It is normal to experience overeating at some point. Carefully control intake, especially during festive occasions when food is abundant. Losing weight becomes very hard especially after a certain age. Eat what you like from time to time but try to lose the extra weight quickly, either through exercise or by avoiding certain kinds of food or decreasing the amount consumed.

Source: Health & Nutrition Magazine,

Issue 170 – October 2014 This is an edited version of the article.

Sustainability is most acutely described as the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely. However, moving beyond that sweeping statement and finding agreement on what is sustainable when it comes to producing and distributing food has been more difficult. Indeed, one complaint is that a plethora of eco-branding certification bodies use disparate metrics and likely only confuse consumers.

For years, there has been criticism by companies of ‘green mail’ initiated by environmental groups; and now there are complaints that groups start out in eco-labelling offerings with moral ambitions, but the reality of competition causes them to evolve into an economic ‘stay alive’ approach to their craft.

Activists initially took a blunt intuitive approach and declared ‘industrial’ (e.g. scale or extensive) agriculture as unsustainable. Their preference is small and local as the standard-bearers of sustainability. While small and local may have a place in the larger food chain, this over-simplification led to concerns about food security, especially from development specialists in poor countries.

Understanding the socio-political constraints that compel small farms – and concurrently, the need to increase the use of inputs – development specialists instead proclaimed the pursuit of ‘sustainable intensification’. This has now morphed into agro-ecology, or the goal to make agriculture more environmentally friendly.


Whether large or small, inputs from soil to water to see that is a loss both to the farmer and the environment. Since agriculture has yet to perfect the science of optimal disbursement and plant uptake, the current focus is a two-prong approach:

  • Land management: Laser levelling, tiling for ground water management, drip irrigation, buffer and vegetative filter strips for soil management and runoff protection
  • Technology: Data collection and software application management coupled with advanced guidance telemetry for more optimal resource utilisation and, where that fails, excess nutrient recovery and reuse

There is ample retail demand for the ‘sustainable’ moniker, as evidenced by the success of companies such as Whole Foods and Chipotle. Whether they are better at it than other firms or approaches is another matter, but they have forced companies as large as Walmart to reconsider their approaches to the market.

Investor interest in companies pledging sustainability goals has picked up, particularly in Europe and developed countries. Of course, trends and profits do not perfectly align, and so their returns will depend greatly on how a specific underlying asset performs.

Government rights and wrongs

Sustainability is not a 21st century concept. Conservation was a key US government response to the 1930s Dust Bowl, and a great expansion in programmes to assist farmers was codified in the 1985 Farm Bill.

So-called cross-compliance, whereby farmers must commit to sustainability practices in exchange for benefits from government crop support programmes, remains a contentious issue for farm groups. There is exceptionally strong pushback from them over government environmental mandates where there is no quid pro quo of economic support.

It should be noted that producers are now turning lemons into lemonade by marketing their regulatory obligations as a reason why consumers, especially the eco-conscious in Europe, should be buying American.

This shift is against the backdrop of farmers in South America who are rapidly expanding their production into new, previously unploughed land. Indeed, given the over US$60 billion worth of investment planned for Brazilian highways, railways and ports in the coming years, higher-cost producers in the US will need some kind of advantage if they are going to compete.

European ‘greening measures’ for agriculture may have overshot their political sustainability. With the best of intentions, Brussels has sought to condition its economic support for the sector on better conservation practices, including the imposition of ‘Ecological Focus Areas’. In essence, a share of each farm (rising to 7% in 2016) must be chemical-free and focused on environmental benefits such as biological diversity.

Farmers, and consequently many of their political representatives, complain that it is too blunt an instrument, delivering little benefit on some farm types but at great cost to the farmer in conjunction with large amounts of paperwork and fear of penalty due to non-compliance.

Gary Blumenthal

World Perspectives Inc, Ag Review, July 2015

False accusations have been levelled against palm oil by French Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Minister Segolene Royale. Her claim that ‘palm oil contributes to deforestation’ has misled the public in France and in Europe.

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India’s economy is expected to grow by 6.4% in 2015 – and is expected to catch up with that of China by 2016-17 – on the back of reform measures unveiled by the new government, according to the World Bank. Steps taken by the government to revive growth and boost sentiment since it assumed power in May 2014 – as well as the sharp slide in global crude oil prices – will help India.

The World Bank ranked India the 10th largest economy in 2014, in terms of nominal GDP. At the same time, the country climbed significantly to 3rd place when ranked in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP)-denominated GDP.

Economic growth has fuelled the expansion of the middle class, now comprising 25% of the population of 1.2 billion, based on criteria set by Asian Development Bank. The segment does not compare to the 63% in China but is as big as that of the US. It is a key driver of consumption, including in the food processing industry which is deemed a ‘rising sector’.

Moves are underway to turn the food industry into a major international player. The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has formulated the ‘Vision 2015’ Action Plan which targets trebling the size of the sector, to increase value addition from 20% to 35% and enhance India’s share of global food trade from 1.5% to 3%.


Figure 1: Salient features of the FSAA

Figure 1: Salient features of the FSSA  

In connection with this, the government has been working towards a unified empirical standard under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (FSSA) to:

  • Consolidate laws relating to food
  • Establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to set science- based standards for food items
  • Regulate the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import of food products
  • Ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food with emphasis on minimum effective legislation that does not restrict competition and includes non-regulatory measures as well as innovations for consumer choice and health; science-based legislation involving risk- and evidence-based analyses; and enforcement through graded penalties.

Figure 2: Differences between the FSSA and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954Figure 2: Differences between the FSSA and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954

Changes under the FSSA:
  • All big manufacturing facilities must obtain a licence from the FSSAI based in New Delhi.
  • Small players/warehouse operators/distributors must get a licence from the state licensing authority.
  • Activities involving novel foods will come under the purview of the FSSAI.
  • All licensed establishments will be subject to periodic inspections and food safety audits by the relevant authorities.
  • A Food Safety Management System Plan and Food Recall Process will be implemented.
  • The adjudication process will reduce the number of court cases.
  • There are new categories of food – such as functional food and nutraceuticals – and additional scope for product innovation.
  • Label claims and claim substantiations will involve new documents.
  • Capsules/syrup/tablets are now deemed to be food items.

The FSSAI was set up with a mandate to lay down science-based standards for food products and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import.

Its work will see the repeal of eight sets of overlapping legislation (Figure 3) and elimination of procedural delays due to differing jurisdictions. Implementation will involve all levels of government.

Figure 3 – Laws to be repealed by the FSSAI


Complex setting

The FSSA extends its jurisdiction to all persons involved in the food business. This refers to any undertaking (profit/non-profit/public/private) related to any stage of manufacture, processing, packaging, storage, transportation, distribution and import of food. It also covers food services, catering services, and the sale of food or food ingredients. As such, the law will go a long way to boost consumer confidence and give the food processing sector a much-needed fillip.

However, effective implementation is fraught with challenges. India presents a unique case of vastness and complexity in providing regulatory oversight from farm to fork. For instance, there are current limitations to the number of Food Safety Officers, funds at state level, and quality laboratories of uniform standard.

The domestic industry looks to the FSSAI to spearhead harmonisation of food standards with those of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. However, the sector would also like the government to take into account the realities on the ground in bringing domestic standards in line with international practice. Should trade and industry feel hampered by the new procedures, it could prove to be counter-productive to overall growth of the food sector.

Bhavna Shah

MPOC India


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Encompassing both plantations and smallholdings, the dynamic Malaysian oil palm sector drives downstream industries, infrastructure development, socio-economic growth and poverty alleviation schemes. The industry was the fourth-largest contributor to the economy in 2014, accounting for RM66.12 billion (EUR 15.7 billion) of export earnings.

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