Palm Oil – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Worker on a Palm Oil Plantation

– photo via www.intellasia.net

Background

While in high school and secondary school, we learnt about palm oil (Malay term – kelapa sawit) in our science classes. We were taught where and how it was planted, how oil was extracted from its fruit and what were the products derived from the palm oil. Palm oil replaced rubber and tin as Malaysia’s main export.

As city folk, we rarely ventured into plantations of any kind other than our garden. Parents fearing wild animal attacks, malaria and dengue would rarely allow children to venture into any plantations.

Over the weekend, we were invited to watch a couple of short films/videos to dispel the overly negative perception of palm oil production, or rather its plantation expansion that many of the western environmental activists and palm oil competitors are propagating. The event and competition was organized by Fried Chillies. Adly the head honcho of Fried Chillies was inspired by his father’s advice to spread the merits of palm oil and how it has helped the Malaysian economy. After the short video presentation, the AFC program “Palm oil – Good fat, Bad fat?” was screened. We felt the program was well written and produced, highlighted the pros and cons of palm oil plantation. This program also provided another impetus for Chillies to create the short video competition and the awareness campaign on palm oil plantation benefits.


As with any issues, there are many facets to consider.

We thought we’d list down information on the use of palm oil, the plantations and its repercussions on social, political, economic and environmental issues, for our readers to learn and to ponder.

A Malaysian Palm Oil Plantation

– photo via www.digitaldelimma.com

THE GOOD

Palm oil, long perceived as an unhealthy tropical oil, is actually a beneficial fat source when in its natural form. It is true that it is high in saturated fatty acids, but, is palm oil good for you? Unrefined palm oil remains a much healthier oil than any hydrogenated vegetable oil.

What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil comes from the fruit of the Elaeis guineensuis tree, also called the African oil palm tree. Palm oil is the most versatile of all vegetable oils. Consisting of 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated fat it is semi-solid at room temperature. It is also odorless and tasteless. These two properties have made palm oil ideal for baked goods and packaged foods. Palm oil also works well with fried foods and stir-fry because its quality doesn’t diminish under extremely high heat. Unlike most nutritional oils, palm oil is highly resistant to oxidation, giving it a longer shelf life.

Plantation Life

– photo via www.guardian.co.uk

Not only is palm oil a rare source of medium chain fatty acids, it is also a source of healthy unsaturated fats. As a vegetable oil, palm oil is a cholesterol free food. It is a well-balanced fat, with 39% oleic acid (omega-9) and 10% linoleic acid (omega-6). These essential fatty acids help to lower blood cholesterol levels in the body. They are necessary for bone, joint, and skin health.

THE BAD

Green peace has launched an all out campaign saying that Palm Oil is the greatest current threat to Orangutans. Vast areas of habitat are cleared for Palm Oil plantations every day. Protecting this land is critical to the Orangutans survival. The fact is , that deforestation is a big threat to the Orang-Utan. Not Palm Oil per se.

Malaysian Love the Orang Utan and are proud of these adorable, lovable creatures.

The Orang Utan

photo via www.forest.sabah.gov.my

The tourism industry is growing from strength to strength in Malaysia and provides so many jobs for the Malaysians, why would we harm our own Orangutan? We have sanctuaries in East Malaysia that protect the Orang Utan. There are many flaws in the Green Peace claims and I urge you to think this through for yourselves.

Read more about the wonderful Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center in Malaysia here and how to go about visiting this place here.

THE UGLY

If we do not do something pro-active and defend our stand on Palm Oil ASAP, then the voice that is heard more clearly will overwhelm the truth and one day, Malaysian may have no more Palm Oil to sustain the economy that provides income and a lively-hood for millions and millions of people. We do not want the situation to degenerate to this UGLY state so we URGE the Palm Oil Industry to stand up and start stating the facts.

We feel that if the Palm Oil Industry is actively contributing to the protection of this species then the priority would be for plantations to make serious effort to establish forest corridors throughout their estates to link isolated forests that are still home to orang-utans. For example the recent 2009 Orang-utan Colloquium organized in Kota Kinabalu asked for the establishment of a contiguous corridor of forest for an absolute minimum of 100 meters along the river bank. Such a corridor would go a long way to assisting orang-utan crossing the oil palm landscape when they disperse as well as other wildlife such as the Bornean Elephant which is only found in Sabah and on the border with Indonesian Kalimantan.

Recreating forest corridors along the river would provide the animals with pathways and food.

We feel that people should not be arguing against the economical value of palm oil and its possible contribution for development but rather to do the right thing, in the right manner, and focus on the issue of sustainable palm oil alongside preserving the eco-system.

Adly of Fried Chillies shares his views:

Links you might like:

Palm Oil Shorties

WHOA Adventures

The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary

14 Comments

  • your articles are becoming very “report” and “cnn” like..serious serious..!

    • cumi&ciki says:

      hi joe! if u went for the Fried-chillies shorties u will see that the palm oil issue is indeed a darn serious one.. we gotta speak up for it, u know. Green peace is even more serious about this and if Malaysia does not buckle down and defend the Palm Oil industry, one day it will be too late.

  • Leo (thule) says:

    I’m not going to say anything on this ciki… coz I’m also in this industry.
    But since Orang Utan is not found in Peninsular, I guess that I could feel less guilty 🙂

  • Well, it’s always good to hear from both sides of the story… before forming an educated opinion. 🙂

  • Interesting. In many countries Palm oil is looked upon as unhealthy. Certainly in confectionery products it’s processed in so many different ways that it’s not good at all.

    In a more natural state, like many products, it has both it’s good and bad points.

    Now to the environmental side of things. Palm oil is a cash crop. It’s worth Billions the world over. Nature and the environment have, and do taken second or third in governments concerns when it comes to this much money.

    The Brazilian Rainforest is a prime example of worldwide concerns of deforestation. Does it continue? Yes.

    I can’t think of a country in the world that had said no to sizable sums of money and mega corporation wealth at the expense of nature.

    When things get to the point when the Orangutan organisations manage to get a sympathetic ear to the habitats destruction. The giant company will offer millions to build a permanent sanctuary and pay the staff too.

    The habitat will end up destroyed in the global sense, but the sanctuary will make every one feel as if they did something good to preserve the animals and plants involved.

    Sorry for being pessimistic about this. But I’ve seen it in Africa, and in parts of Asia. I never understand why people don’t learn from history.

    Palm oil, no problem. Orangutan two thumbs up. Palm oil corporations and politicians two thumbs down. The future … bleak

    • cumi&ciki says:

      Hi Dave, thank you for your extremely fair comment. We really need to come up with some solutions for this one because I agree with you, the future is at stake. I can totally appreciate both sides of the coin too though. cheers mate!

  • Adly says:

    After 30 years of anti-palm oil campaigns, I think they will be successful in eradicating the western world of palm oil in the next 10 years. The movement is just too big now. Nearly everyone in the west thinks that Palm Oil is bad. It’s like “invading a country under the pretense that they have weapons of mass destruction, found out that they don’t and said oh well, lets just continue then.. we are already here”

    Health – Not many people know that Palm Oil is much better than soya or rapeseed as chemicals are not needed in extraction of the oil. See “Food.Inc”, a 2009 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner for problems in American Soya Bean. It’s all GMO now.

    Environment – Check out the oscar winning documentary “Inconvenient Truth” by ex-vice president of America on who are the actual culprits of global environmental problems. Also, the recent Copenhagen environmental summit has exposed that the developed nations are not as sincere about cleaning their own environmental mess but expects developing nations to foot their bill.

    Figures have shown that in the past 100 years, 15 million hectares of forests was cleared for Palm Oil. That’s a lot. But in the past 20 years, a whopping 100 MILLION hectares of land cleared for soya, rapeseed etc. Why has this not brought up as an issue? Don’t the animals cleared in that forest deserve similar attention as well? Thats almost 8 times more land in 5 times less timeperiod.

    We want to preserve our country, forests and land for our future generations. But we have to make the right decisions that really contributes to us, our country and trully benefiting the world and not follow decisions that someone foreign has put in our heads that benefits them and their country instead of us Malaysians.

  • Chelsea says:

    In fact, palm oil plantation expansion is responsible for roughly a third of all deforestation on islands like Borneo and Sumantra. If nothing changes, palm oil plantations are planned to replace an area of rainforest the size of Missouri and continue to endanger species like the orangutan, displace communities, and contribute to climate change. And Indonesia is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on Earth, after the U.S. and China, mainly due to emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

  • Amy says:

    THANK YOU for the summary and picture of the palm oil debate. wow. My question is, if palm oil is on an ingredient list, is the company using it in their products considered anti-environment? and the same for rapeseed and soya? Environmentally unacceptable ingredients? thanks so much for your reply.

  • Tara says:

    I personally think that palm oil is bad. Very bad. It may be the healthiest oil, but once humans consume it, it’s been processed so much that it is really really unhealthy. It can even cause heart disease or cancer. This has been proven. But palm oil is still in much of our food, drinks, cosmetics, personal health care stuff, and tons more. We can’t just stop using it, because it’s so important and many people have jobs in the palm oil business. But if this goes on, palm oil plantations will take over all the rainforest all over the world until there’s none left. So I have a compromise for a solution. Palm oil grows super fast, and is no use at all once the tree has given fruit. So we use the land we have cleared in the past for palm oil, and plant trees. Once they grow and give fruit, we chop down the palm oil tree and use the fruit for palm oil and the wood of the tree for all our furniture and wood stuff instead of using rainforest trees. And those whose job is logging, they can help with uprooting the palm oil trees, collecting the fruit, logging the palm oil trees, that stuff. If this happens all over the world, we can still employ people in the business, we won’t damage rainforest or anything living and growing in it, and the whole world will be happy. Even the Earth will smile, like in the cartoons.

    But whatever you do or say, nobody takes any action. The governments all help loggers and palm oil, they don’t care about the rainforest, as long as they get money. So we may as well say goodbye to the rainforest now.

  • Private says:

    hey, i am doing a project on palm oil at the moment and i need some more things that are good about it. i have got the bad points and have got that it is a healthier oil, but i do need some more good points…thanx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *