France’s current adversarial position on the palm oil trade is hurting relations with Malaysia, Malaysian Palm Oil Board chairman Datuk Seri Ahmad Hamzah said today. (File pix)

KUALA LUMPUR: France’s current adversarial position on the palm oil trade is hurting relations with Malaysia, Malaysian Palm Oil Board chairman Datuk Seri Ahmad Hamzah said today.

"French attacks on (the palm oil industry) are uncalled for and misguided. France should be cherishing 60 years of diplomatic relations with Malaysia,” he said.

Ahmad was responding to France Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot's recent announcement that his country will close a window which offered the possibility of using palm oil in biofuels.

A couple of weeks ago, Hulot reportedly said France wants to stop "imported deforestation" and blamed unsustainable production of soybean and palm oil for impeding development in Latin America and Asia.

Hulot's negative view of palm oil reflects that of Avril Group, Europe's largest biodiesel producer. Avril Group uses French rapeseed as its main feedstock for biodiesel.

In the same news report, Avril chief executive Jean-Philippe Puig said his company supports all initiatives banning the usage of palm oil in biodiesel.

"Why is France vehemently attacking palm oil and undermining the opportunity for many families here to earn a decent living?” Ahmad asked, when contacted by NST Business today.

"Palm oil is a strategic commodity and the oil palm is a miracle crop," he said, adding that oil palm planting and palm oil exports provide developing nations, such as Malaysia, a path out of poverty.

Ahmad rubbished allegations that oil palm planters cause rampant deforestation and provided evidence that Malaysian farmers have a good track record in efficient land use and conservation.

Oil palm trees yield four tonnes of vegetable oil per hectare, or 10, seven and five times the yields of soyabean, sunflower and rapeseed, respectively. At the same time, oil palms occupy less than five per cent of the world’s land under oil crop cultivation.

Ahmad adduced more studies from reputable science journals detailing that oil palm trees are actually the most environmentally-friendly among all oil crops such as rapeseed, soybean and sunflower.

This is because on a per-litre basis, palm oil production requires less energy, land and fewer fertilisers or pesticide usage compared to other vegetable oils.

Oil palms have an economic lifespan of 25 years, while its competitors like rapeseed, soya and sunflower need to be uprooted every four months during harvest, and that contributes to soil erosion.

Malaysia has 55 per cent of its land under forest cover. The corresponding figure for France is just 37 per cent.

Ahmad also highlighted that Malaysia earns between US$15 billion and US$20 billion from palm oil exports every year, which accounts for 8 per cent of Malaysia’s economy.

Businesses related to palm oil employ more than two million people in Malaysia, including close to 650,000 small farmers whose plantations account for 40 per cent of land under cultivation.

"The palm oil value chain is important in terms of employment, foreign exchange earnings and socio-economic interests of smallholders in bridging the rural and urban development gap," he said.

Last year, the European Food Safety Authority raised potential health concerns over the consumption of palm oil over contaminants glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) and 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD).

Since that announcement, many food and beverage companies in Europe started boycotting palm oil.

In a separate interview, MPOB director general Dr Kushairi Din testified that many foods contain 3-MCPD and GE, including processed meats such as sausages and sauces, gravies and almost all vegetable oils.

“These substances, namely 3-MCPD and GE, are present in the everyday foods we eat. They are not confined to palm oil.”

He noted with disappointment when news reports sensationally cast aspersions on palm oil without evidence, as it often leads to public confidence erosion.

"As of now, there is no real evidence, based on human studies, that show that 3-MCPD and GE cause cancer. As professionals,

we must look at the facts and figures of palm oil nutrition," he said.

Blurring the truth with narratives not grounded in facts just triggers public doubt, Kushairi added.

He urged responsible media practitioners to convey the facts and figures of sustainable practices by the palm oil industry.

“We need to assert the truth about baseless claims by irresponsible people who put up technical trade barriers to negate Malaysia's exports and overall economy,” he added.

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