Thursday, May 08, 2003 - THE local palm oil industry, with the assistanceof the Malaysian government, will be taking steps to counter the risinganti-palm oil and anti-tropical oil sentiment in northern Europe similarto the smear campaign by the American Soybean Association (ASA) in thelate 1980s.
Industry players contacted by StarBiz said it was time to seriously viewthe long-term threat to local palm oil exports to Europe, as it makes upabout 14% of Malaysia's total palm oil export market. Europe is also thethird largest buyer after India and China.
Some non-governmental organisations and European countries label palm oilas an environmentally damaging oil, citing massive rainforest destructionand the loss of orang utan habitat caused by overly aggressive plantationcompanies opening up more land for oil palm plantations.
A documentary entitled Food that Kills, aired in Sweden on Dec 25 lastyear, depicting deforestation and animal killings for the sake of reapingthe commercial value in oil palm, caused an uproar among edible oilsconsumers in that nation.
This resulted in a chain reaction, with nearby countries boycotting palmoil and other tropical edible oils, produced mostly by third worldcountries.
Leading this latest effort to clear up the negative perceptions is PrimaryIndustries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik, who is expected to visitBelgium, Sweden and Denmark, where the European smear campaignsoriginated, for at least two weeks beginning May 28.
United Plantations Bhd senior executive director Tan Sri B. Bek-Nielsen,who was the Malaysian representative to the US to counter the ASA smearcampaign in 1988-89, said: The European countries must understand thateconomy and ecology must go hand-in-hand, particularly for third worldcountries which need to develop and prosper.
It is wrong to say that local plantation companies destroyed rainforestsin planting oil palm, he pointed out. Most of the 3.5 million ha of oilpalm hectarage in the country were previously rubber and coconut estates.
Only of late did some big plantation companies expand hectarage to Sabahand Sarawak, as well as to Indonesia, where land is abundant, cheap andsuitable for oil palm.
Furthermore, he added, local oil palm growers are more advanced andsystematic in their replanting programme, and adopt good forestationpractices. Based on my previous experience, Malaysia needs to put forwarda strong stand reaffirming the natural goodness of our palm oil.
He said, using proven research undertaken by six US-based scientificresearch organisations, Malaysia succeeded in cleaning up the image ofpalm oil tarnished by the ASA.
We convinced American consumers that palm oil does not causecardiovascular complications, refuting what was highlighted by the ASA, headded.
Meanwhile, West Malaysian Palm Oil Growers Association president Tan SriDr Jesse J.C. Chang said the European countries must understand thatMalaysian palm oil growers planted the land with crops and not let itbecome waste land.
The smear campaigns against palm oil are likely linked to the fear of palmoil competitiveness, he added.
Dr Lim had recently stated: The (northern European countries) cannot touchus on health issues, so they are harping on other things. Whatever issuesthey come up with, we will take them on one by one.