How Malaysia is tackling anti-palm oil propaganda, and protecting affected orang utan

MPOC chief executive Datuk Kalyana Sundaram says Malaysians have shed their anti-palm oil sentiments following the ‘Love My Palm Oil’ awareness campaign spearheaded by the Primary Industries Ministry. — Picture by Choo Choy May
MPOC chief executive Datuk Kalyana Sundaram says Malaysians have shed their anti-palm oil sentiments following the ‘Love My Palm Oil’ awareness campaign spearheaded by the Primary Industries Ministry. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 ― More Malaysians have shed their anti-palm oil sentiments following the “Love My Palm Oil” awareness campaign spearheaded by the Primary Industries Ministry, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has claimed.

Its chief executive Datuk Kalyana Sundaram said that many initiatives have also been taken  by the council itself to address Western propaganda on the edible oil, often painted as a destructive force which displaces wildlife and causing rampant deforestation.

“Malaysian consumers have definitely been influenced by all these anti-palm oil messages, by the social media and the electronic media they have access to.

“Many of them have become believers without understanding the facts of knowing the truth,” he said, adding that it has been more than a year since the Love My Palm Oil campaign begun, and has bridged the wide information gap among locals.

“Schools, and I mean some of the personalities, some of the students, Members of Parliament even in this country, are now talking more positively about palm oil, so we count that as a measure of success through the efforts of the campaign.

“No, I won't claim that we have overcome the prejudice against palm oil, even among Malaysian consumers. But what we have done is, we have bridged the gap,” he added.

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok had in January last year, announced a year-long Love My Palm Oil campaign, in a heightened bid to counter anti-palm oil campaigns and movements, seen as a threat to workers of the palm oil industry.

National newswire Bernama reported Kok saying that the campaign was aimed at instilling national pride and greater appreciation for Malaysian palm oil, while focusing on socio-economic importance, health, nutrition, and food and non-food applications.

On conservation and reforestation efforts, Kalyana said that about 55 per cent of the nation's total land area is under forest cover.

He also claimed that the council has managed to stabilised the population of orang utan in East Malaysia, and reduce or prevent animal-human conflict in plantation areas through its own wildlife conservation programme.

“At MPOC many years ago, about 10 years ago, we created the wildlife conservation fund, and the first job given to us at MPOC, and I had to head that, was to stabilise the orang utan population.

“Today, working with the Sabah Wildlife Dept and the Sarawak Forestry Department, I dare say, that the orang utan population in the states have been stabilised, and they will be protected in perpetuity,” he added.

Kalyana said that the MPOC also funds a special wildlife rescue unit in Sabah ― whenever there are conflicts with any wild animal, the unit jumps in to rescue them from harm.

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok had in January last year, announced a year-long Love My Palm Oil campaign, in a heightened bid to counter anti-palm oil campaigns and movements. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok had in January last year, announced a year-long Love My Palm Oil campaign, in a heightened bid to counter anti-palm oil campaigns and movements. — Picture by Choo Choy May

The team has 24 rangers and vets on a permanent basis, for seven years to date, he said.

“So this is our commitment. What's another commitment now, this year, the industry is paying an additional RM1 cess for green conservation. We use that money primarily for reforestation as well as conservation. So these are positive efforts,” he added.

A cess is a form of tax levied by the government of a country, with the aim of raising funds for a targeted purpose.

How do our efforts fare against alternative oil manufacturers?

Kalyana said that Malaysia has certainly upped the ante, especially given 60 laws and regulations governing the palm oil sector here.

In contrast, he said that the alternative oil and fats producers, particularly from the West and the European Union (EU), lack any such certification.

“I think we are doing more. Simple thing. In our sustainability debate we often ask, why are the competing oils, including the European rapeseed (oil), sunflower oil, soybean producers around the world, are not subject to a vigorous certification system as we are?” he asked.

On June 10, 2019, the EU Parliament passed the Delegated Act to restrict and ban palm oil biofuel altogether, by 2030.

Indonesia and Malaysia will jointly seek justice at the World Trade Organisation, as the EU presses on to ban palm oil as The Delegated Act is seen as discriminatory against the economies of developing nations in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America which produce palm oil

As part of its future undertaking given the challenges ahead, the MPOC is now leading a framework to court brand following for Malaysian palm oil.

Kalyana said that the Council is looking at making the said edible oil a “composite brand”, and the goal is it's “ultimate long-term objective”.

“The ideal long term objective, especially and particularly from MPOC is to have a brand following for Malaysian palm oil. Now when I say brand following, I meant country of origin branded. Not individual companies.

“It's going to be a long-term goal and a long term exercise. Our long term objective would be, anybody looking at Malaysian palm oil, will immediately identify it as a class of its own,” he added.

Last week, Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok, took her crusade to promote palm oil to the next level with the release of a Chinese New Year video extolling its virtues.

The five-minute video shot primarily in Mandarin, is available to watch on video streaming platform YouTube.

In a Facebook post on her official Facebook page, Kok moved to explain why she made the video, stating every Malaysian can play a part in promoting palm oil amidst an onslaught of bad press from the European Union who claim palm oil is bad for health.

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