Yes, sustainably sourced palm oil does exist
RECENTLY, Italian scientist Roberto Gatti made headlines in Malaysia when he proclaimed that there is “no such thing as sustainable palm oil”. The only problem is that Mr Gatti is wrong.
Today, the palm oil industry is a vital, global agricultural player. While it occupies less than 0.5% of total land area under agriculture today, it accounts for 37% of all the oils and fats produced in the world and continues, in spite of the Covid-19 calamity, to secure jobs for well over five million people globally, most of whom are smallholder farmers who depend on this crop for their livelihood.
Is everything perfect and rosy? Absolutely not. The oil palm, like all agricultural crops, requires land. And this is where the dilemma arises. In this context, we must acknowledge that the oil palm has contributed towards large tracks of deforestation, even though over the last 25 years it has accounted for less than 5% of global deforestation.
Boycotting palm oil and replacing it with alternate vegetable oils is, of course, a decision people or big brands are free to make. However, the price for such an action will be high, as it has been proven beyond doubt that replacing palm oil with any alternative vegetable oil will result in using up to 10 times more land to produce the same quantity of oil.
The International Union for the Conservation of nature and the World Wide Fund for Nature have recognised this and support the production and use of sustainable palm oil to prevent greater impacts on the environment and biodiversity.
Studies show that commodities such as beef, soy, maize, poultry, timber production and more account for over 90% of the world’s deforestation today, and are still in the infancy when it comes to providing consumers with a supply chain that does not come from recently deforested land. Palm oil, however, has such a scheme in place already, where buyers can be assured of no deforestation, no new peat land development and no exploitation of workers. It is called the Principles and Criteria, which is set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – and it is a standard that I can state with supreme confidence that goes beyond any similar sustainability standard in the world today.
The aspirations remain high, and today we have Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification schemes, providing an amazing platform to raise the floor of the many instead of just focusing on raising the ceiling of the few.
DATUK CARL BEK-NIELSEN
Chief executive director, United Plantations Bhd and co-chair of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)