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The Palm Oil Truth Foundation's Response to Greenpeace Allegations

Jon Tomczyk - September, 30, 2008

Since the mid-eighties when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI - first launched its operatic broadside against palm oil alleging wildly that palm oil was saturated fat and thus unhealthy and bad for heart health, much water has flowed below the bridge. (Since then) a series of scientific studies that proved that palm oil, being a vegetable oil was in fact cholesterol free and good for heart health as it was rich in heart friendly anti-oxidants such as beta-carotenes, Co-enzyme Q10, tocotrienols etc. (i) CSPI beat a hasty retreat to look for a new stratagem to rein in palm oil. After a half-decade (they) published a “report” called “Cruel Oil: How Palm Oil harms Health, Rainforest and Wildlife (ii)” premised on the ill-conceived, disingenuous and fallacious ground that palm oil causes massive deforestation and therefore threatens the extinction of the orangutan.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) quickly jumped on the bandwagon and launched a “report” on the far-reaching impacts of the palm oil industry. The report called "The Oil for Ape Scandal” (iii) made the tortured link of the demand for palm oil to the impending extinction of the orangutan. The report even states that without urgent intervention, the palm oil trade will probably cause the extinction of the orangutan within 12 years. They allege that the palm oil industry is the primary cause of the orangutans' decline, wiping out its rainforest home. FOE then encouraged its members to dress in funky orange colored orangutan suits to picket supermarkets…(with) products containing palm oil. The report acknowledged though that “as a campaign this is obviously an emotive one.”

It did not take long for Greenpeace to join the circus. Last April, the activists from Greenpeace, “donned furry orange orangutan suits and protested — making screeching jungle sounds and scaling Unilever office buildings in several European cities. The group singled out Unilever, one of the founding members of the palm oil roundtable, because it is a major palm oil consumer.” (iv) Prior to this, the recalcitrant activists in Greenpeace had blockaded palm oil shipments from Indonesia to prevent the cargo from making its way to Rotterdam.

Not to be outdone, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), jumped into the “report” publishing business, publishing another “report” called “The Problem with Palm Oil”. RAN organized a sticker campaign encouraging its members to deface supermarket products on supermarket shelves with RAN produced stickers. Their website even went so far as to claim that the orang utan are predicted to become extinct as early as 2011.

That’s the hype. Let us examine the facts.

It is undeniable that palm oil is one of the most productive of all the oilseed crops with an enviable yield of more than 4.5 metric tons per hectare. This dwarfs the miniscule 0.5 metric tons yield typical of its competitors such as soy, rapeseed and sunflower. This extremely high productivity means several things. For one, the plentitude makes palm oil relative cheap and therefore popular with consumers, restaurateurs and food manufacturers alike. The healthful profile of the oil makes palm oil a formidable competitor in the edible oil stakes. The popularity and suitability of palm oil as a feedstock for palm based biofuel and biodiesel also triggered panic attacks as it threatened the hegemony of the west.

For another, the high productivity also means that less land is required for palm oil plantations to produce the same amount of oil as the competing oil seeds. Add the perennial nature of the palm oil tree (the tree is productive for 20-30 years and can be harvested annually without replanting) and it becomes patently obvious that it is one mean oilseed crop. Its high productivity meant that palm plantations can be and have been for the past decade or so been established on legitimate agricultural land, at least in Malaysia. There was really no necessity to clear forest indiscriminately to plant palm oil. This explains why Malaysia, which was hitherto the world’s largest palm oil producer can still boast forest cover of 65% despite planting palm oil for more than a century! Ironically, the countries of the industrial west from which these paragons of conservation like CSPI, FOE, Greenpeace and RAN hail, can hardly claim 20% forest cover.

Now to deal with RAN’s mishiga on orangutan extinction. With orangutan in the wild population in Borneo alone currently estimated at between 45,000 and 69,000, it behooves one to ask just is it even remotely possible for the orangutan, by any leap of logic or stretch of imagination, to go extinct within 3 years.

This does not even take into account the many conservation programs and orang utan enclaves established by Malaysia and Indonesia. Orang utan conservation centres had been established in Indonesia including those at Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, Kutai in East Kalimantan, Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, and Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park on the border of Aceh and North Sumatra. In Malaysia, conservation areas have been set up and they include the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre in Sarawak and Matang Wildlife Centre also in Sarawak, and the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary near Sandakan in Sabah.

In the circumstances, the Palm Oil Truth Foundation has to wonder aloud whether all these feral attacks against palm oil is due to genuine environmental concerns or was the real catalyst the realization that western hegemony is now threatened as the oilseed crops of the industrialized west have a formidable competitor on their hands. If it is so, they could choose to compete on a level playing field as we in the West are wont to insist on and spare the world the histrionics and orangutan suited circus acts of FOE, Greenpeace and RAN Finally, what is particularly disconcerting but yet rather illuminating is this excerpt taken from the official blog of RAN called “Understory” which gives a succinct insight into the thoughts of the organization: “Savvy communicators (like politicians know that it doesn’t matter if you are right, it matters only if you are convincing!”

(i) “Palm Oil: A Compilation of Documented Facts on Nutritional Effects of Palm Oil,” Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, 1, 3 (Feb. 1989). The scientists included Charles Elson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Roslyn B. Alfin-Slater of UCLA, David Kritchevsky of the Wistar Institute, David Klurfeld of Wayne State University and Randall Wood of Texas A&M University.

Excerpted from:
Jon Tomczyk, September, 30, 2008, The Theatre of the Absurd: The Antics of the Anti-Palm Oil Lobby

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