The recent “Unmask Palm Oil” campaign circulating around New Zealand and Australia is advocating for the mandatory labeling of palm oil in products. The Malaysian palm oil industry in essence supports this labeling. Consumers deserve to know what’s in their food. Of course, this labeling should go beyond just identifying palm oil. It should clearly identify all ingredients, including other fat sources. Ingredients should also be listed in descending order on the label, so consumers can better understand what’s in the product.
While we strongly support clear food labeling in New Zealand and Australia – this labeling is already mandatory in the United States and Canada – we’re disappointed by the untruths being shared by the “Unmask Palm Oil Campaign”. This campaign was started by a group of high school students. Clearly they didn’t do their homework. Not all palm oil is the same.
Unmask Palm Oil claims that palm oil is a “massive contributor” to climate change. This isn’t true in Malaysia. Palm oil production actually helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This article in Global Fats and Oil Magazine explains that Malaysia and its palm oil industry’s strict environmental standards, as well the oil palm’s natural productivity, offer a more sensible approach to climate change.
Palm oil is the world’s most land-efficient vegetable oil crop. Malaysian oil palm plantations use ten times less land to produce the same amount of oil as soybean fields and seven times less land than a canola (rapeseed) field. If you want to point the finger at agriculture, look at livestock. According to an FAO report, livestock is the single largest anthropogenic user of land, accounting for 30 percent of land surface on the planet. It’s the largest driver of deforestation in the world.
Unmask Palm Oil claims that deforestation from new oil palm plantations is threatening the survival of native wildlife such as orangutans, elephants and tigers. This is not true in Malaysia. In Malaysia, oil palm is only planted on legal agricultural land. Our high-yielding trees produce oil-rich fruit for more than twenty years before needing to be replaced. And when it is time to replant, burning is not allowed.
Malaysia loves its wildlife. Most of our nearly 13,000 orangutans live in protected forests in Sabah and Sarawak, the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Orangutans are not native to Peninsular Malaysia. Our Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, a worldwide leader in orangutan care, was set up more than 50 years ago. It was the first center to return orangutans to the wild. We also recently committed to the building and operation of the world’s first pygmy elephant sanctuary in Sabah. .
When you do the research, you can’t deny that Malaysia works hard to protect our precious, natural ecosystem. Plus, our sustainably produced palm oil is also non-GMO – unlike most other commonly used vegetable oils – naturally trans fat-free and nutritious. We support labeling of Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil on products. It’s simply a smarter choice.
Dr. Kalyana Sundram and Robin Miller