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Growing demand for palm oil should silence campaigners against the commodity — Industry expert

Publish date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 09:26 PM

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 30): The growing demand for palm oil should silence the voices of anti-palm oil campaigners, who made allegations about palm oil having higher saturated levels of fatty acids and that it should not be used in the food system, said the former director-general of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) Tan Sri Yusof Basiron.

He said multiple collaborative research studies between MPOB and its counterparts in Australia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and Canada have shown palm oil to be a nutritionally acceptable raw material for use in food.

“One particular sweet victory in our fight against the anti-palm oil campaigners was the successful outcome of collaborative research work of MPOB with Brandeis University of the US,” he said during the Henri Fauconnier Lecture in the MPOB International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition 2023 (PIPOC 2023) recently.

In that research, he said the blending of palm oil with oils such as soybean and rapeseed, when consumed as food oil, gave a better ratio of good to bad cholesterol and it proved the suitability of palm oil use in the food industry as it reduced trans fatty acids in food products.

In his presentation, Yusof said that the palm oil industry aims to increase its supply through research and development (R&D) activities and will focus on finding new uses for palm oil.

“The R&D process consolidates the present uses by enhancing the acceptance of the nutritional values and promoting palm oil products by disseminating research findings and other promotional information.

"The supply of palm oil has expanded by 17.5 times between 1980 to 2022. It means that demand and market expansion for palm oil must also expand at the same time to sustain remunerative prices," he said.

In 1980, Iran regarded palm oil as inedible but later changed its food policy and accepted palm oil for the manufacturing of vegetable ghee due to lower trans fats or trans fatty acid content, he noted.

"This turnaround was achieved with assistance from MPOB to evaluate the suitability of using palm oil in the Iranian food system which made them regularly import over 400,000 tonnes of palm oil for their food industry," he stated.

Additionally, China also accepts the nutritional value of palm oil for its food industry and continues to be among the world's largest palm oil consumers. "Through the collaborative research conducted between MPOB with the Beijing Nutrition Research Institute, they found that palm olein has a better cholesterol ratio of good to bad cholesterol compared to the locally available oils such as lard and soybean," he said.

China, the second largest palm oil importer in the world after India, has also recognised the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification.

Last year alone, exports of palm oil and related products from Malaysia to China reached US$3.72 billion, or RM14.86 billion. This substantial number constituted 11.4% of Malaysia's total worldwide exports of palm derivatives, which amounted to RM130.25 billion.

Meanwhile, the entry of palm oil into the US and EU markets is subjected to or blocked by many trade barriers in spite of it being a competitive biofuel raw material there. However, whenever the US and EU imposed a new trade barrier, the palm oil industry developed solutions through R&D and technology, Yusof said.

"The EU tried to disqualify palm oil as not being suitable for their cold climate, with a high pour point, but the industry developed a winter grade palm biodiesel to solve the problem.

“Similarly the EU tried to insinuate palm oil had a high amount of 3-monochloropropane diol (3-MPCD) and glycedol esters, but through R&D, we found out that it can be removed through washing and chemical refining techniques,” he added.

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