Malaysia Palm Oil - An Informed Choice

Mr Carl Bek-Nielsen, Vice-Chairman of United Plantations Bhd

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 French consumer – so he or she can judge for themselves and make informed decisions based on facts and not emotional rhetoric.


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