The Campaign Against Palm Oil Biofuel Heats Up

Green NGOs, anti-biofuel campaigners and competing vegetable oils producers are starting to escalate their campaign against Palm Oil ahead of the revision of Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that will occur later this year.

The anti-palm oil campaign has recruited politicians, including Member of the European Parliament Maria Teresa Giménez Barbat, a “centre-right liberal” to launch one of the first attacks. Recently, she authored a parliamentary question that condemned the use of Palm Oil in biofuels.

She claimed that Palm Oil leads to deforestation. What she should have said is that poverty leads to deforestation, and that clearing land and growing crops – palm oil, rice or anything else – is a way of escaping poverty. This is known as forest transition, a key step in a developing economy’s path to prosperity. Ms Gimenez Barbat should also have mentioned that by taking this step and growing oil palm, Malaysia has lifted millions out of poverty, and built a new rural middle class. Forest transition for oil palm cultivation in Malaysia is done sustainably and in accordance with the law.

Unfortunately, her complaints echo the same tired line propagated by Transport and Environment (T&E) and others, which recently released a “new” report attacking Palm Oil. These arguments are discredited; the United Nations, among many others, clearly recognizes Malaysia’s internationally renowned forest protection commitments. Key policy experts also recognize that pinning the blame for the complex social and economic drivers behind deforestation is unproductive.

In response, Dr. Yusof Basiron, the CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council wrote:

“The core of T&E’s complaint is that the use of palm oil for biodiesel is rising. This is true ­ though the real increase is nowhere near the amount that T&E claims.

“Statistics show that more than 50% of the biofuel used in Europe from vegetable oil comes from rapeseed, and only 15% from palm oil. Yet European oilseeds are spared criticism, while NGOs make continuous unfounded allegations against palm oil.”

Here are a few more inconvenient facts for T&E and MEP Giménez Barbat:

  • All Palm Oil imported into the EU as biodiesel must by law, under RED Directive, meet the environmental criteria laid down by the EU. That is the case for Malaysian Palm Oil;
  • Malaysia is the world leader in Palm Oil sustainability – and the Malaysian Government protects over 67% of land in Malaysia as forest area. A commitment unmatched by any EU Member State;
  • Malaysian Palm Oil has an excellent track record of environmental protection, recognised around the world;
  • Malaysian Government policy ensures land is available for agriculture development (including Palm Oil) and forest protection & conservation;
  • Palm Oil is the world’s most efficient oilseed crop; it produces vastly more oil, using less land, fewer pesticides and less fertiliser than other vegetable oils such as rapeseed or soybean oils.
  • Palm oil supports the livelihoods of more than 300,000 smallholders and their families in Malaysia, and around 3 million smallholders in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
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