The European Parliament’s Deeply-Flawed Campaign Against Palm Oil

The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is set to vote on a deeply-flawed draft report that contains a number of falsehoods about Palm Oil.

Let’s set the record straight.

Myth #1: The draft report claims that “Cultivation of palm oil over the last 20 years has been the cause of 20% of all deforestation.”

Fact: This is completely false and has disproved by the EU’s own research. In 2013 the EU commissioned research[1] looking into the causes of deforestation globally. The report calculates that over a 20-year period, about 132 million hectares (Mha) of deforestation can be attributed to the agriculture and forestry sector. Of this, 58Mha – a little less than half — was cleared for livestock grazing. The others are “soybeans (13 Mha), maize (8 Mha), oil palm (6 Mha), wood products (5 Mha), rice (4 Mha), and sugar cane (3 Mha).” So, out of a total 239Mha of deforestation, 2.5 per cent can be attributed to Palm Oil, less than soybean, beef, maize and infrastructure development[2].

 

Myth #2: Companies producing Palm Oil are guilty of “Deforestation”.

Fact: This is a ‘straw man’ argument. Forest Transition is a well-recognised path to development, whereby poor countries develop their resources to maximize food production and human development. Europe engaged in massive unsustainable clearing of forests for its development. In Malaysia, 56.4% of land has been kept as forest area, while setting aside 20% of land for agricultural development.  This is a track record of development and forest protection that no EU country can match.  Again, no EU country can match this record.  Belgium has 23% forest area, France has 31%, Italy has 32%, and the Rapporteur’s home country, Czech Republic, has 36%. This is a far cry from the claims made by the Committee.  Perhaps the Committee should look no further than within the borders of Europe before criticising others.

 

Myth #3: In Paragraph E, the draft report states that “precious tropical ecosystems, which cover a mere 7% of the Earth’s surface, are under increasing pressure from deforestation and the establishment of palm oil plantations.”

Fact: This is a misrepresentation of absurd proportions. Tropical land represents 31 per cent of ice-free total land surface area – approximately 20 million km2[3]. The total global oil palm cultivated area is approximately is 180,000 km2 – less than 1 per cent of tropical land area, and around 0.1 per cent of total global land area[4]. This compares with cultivated area for soybean (1,170,000km2), rapeseed (357,000 km2) and maize (1,830,000 km2).  In the past ten years, oil palm area has expanded by around 57,000 km2. Soybean has expanded by 251,000 km2; rapeseed has expanded by 80,000 km2. Paddy rice has expanded by around 82,000 km2. The largest long-term factor in deforestation in tropical forests is demographics. The largest pressure on tropical ecosystems has been in Latin American forests, notably Brazil, where the commodity pressures have been from beef and soybean, not Palm Oil.

 

Myth #4: The expansion of Oil Palm plantations in other developing countries is a bad thing and undermines sustainable development.

Fact: European policy has a dark history in undermining developing countries’ prosperity and development.  This report seeks to perpetuate that dark history. Further, the report is oblivious to the plight of farmers in developing countries. Oil Palm cultivation supports millions of livelihoods across Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia and has done so for decades.  In Africa, small farmers produce around 90 per cent of Palm Oil[5]. In Malaysia, 39 per cent of oil palm is from small farmers. Further development and cultivation of oil palm will increase food security, improve rural incomes, and benefit the economies of developing countries in Africa and Asia. These benefits for the global poor appear not to matter to the authors of the European Parliament report.

 

Myth #5: Palm Oil is the sole reason for declining populations of endangered animals such as the orang-utan. The report states in Paragraph I “the loss of natural habitats in the form of rainforests is endangering the survival of a large number of species”.

Fact: Research clearly shows that Palm Oil is not to blame for species decline. The NGO Traffic highlights that the major threat to tiger populations is poaching[6], not Palm Oil. A Traffic study notes that a hunter can earn around 1.5 times the annual income of a typical rural worker from the capture of a single tiger[7]. Similarly, the reasons for orang-utan deaths are only now being understood, despite campaigners simply blaming ‘Palm Oil’. In a recent study of village populations in Kalimantan, it was noted that more than half the orangutan killings were for meat consumption[8] by the local communities. In Malaysia, recent strategies to preserve orang-utan populations – based on these realities – have succeeded in stabilising animal numbers.  The reality is that Palm Oil doesn’t kill animals or make them extinct. Human population and development does. The past 500 years have seen a range of species extinctions across Europe. The Pyrenean ibex, native to France, went extinct in 2000. The Caspian tiger went extinct as recently as 1975.

 

Myth #6: Using certification schemes and NGO-developed conservation measures such as Greenpeace’s High Carbon Stock approach will support sustainable development. The report in Paragraph 4 “Calls for companies that cultivate palm oil to use the High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach when developing their plantations.”

Fact: The idea that democratic sovereign countries such as Malaysia should have environmental management standards written in Brussels belongs to a different era. Organisations such as Greenpeace have pushed an agenda to restrict Palm Oil production and procurement that has had a negative impact on small farmers. As a result of Greenpeace’s ‘Zero Deforestation’ policies Unilever admits publicly that it has cut around 80 per cent of its small farmers from its supply chain[9]. Thousands of small farmers will be negatively impacted. Greenpeace, and the European Parliament, are prioritising environmental ideology over the social and economic welfare of people in Africa and Asia.

 

Myth #7: Palm oil biodiesel is somehow worse than alternative sources of biofuel. The report in Paragraph 16 calls for palm oil biodiesel to banned “by 2020 at the latest”.

Fact: European legislators are more interested in protecting domestic industries in Europe than solving environmental problems or making efficient fuels. Palm oil is by far the most efficient oilseed in the world. Biodiesel from Palm Oil is therefore responsible for using far less land, and far fewer fertilizers and other inputs, compared to any other oilseed crop. The use of Palm Oil for biofuels and biomass has been shown by scientists to be highly beneficial[10] for the EU’s renewable strategy. Advanced biomass is also a major advantage: Palm Oil’s use of POME, used FFB and fronds, have significant benefits as advanced biomass feedstocks[11] that can be beneficial for the EU’s pivot towards advanced biofuels and biomass. The EU’s inefficient, underproductive and overpriced domestic biofuels – primarily rapeseed – are using such scare stories to impose restrictions on Palm Oil exports to Europe. This is an attempt to use myths to prop up failing European industries – in contravention of the facts.

[1] European Commission (2013). The impact of EU consumption on deforestation: Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation. Technical Report 2013-63 http://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/pdf/1.%20Report%20analysis%20of%20impact.pdf

[2] European Commission (2013). The impact of EU consumption on deforestation: Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation. Technical Report 2013-63 http://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/pdf/1.%20Report%20analysis%20of%20impact.pdf

[3] Yale School of Forestry. ‘Tropical Zone’ http://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/tropical-zone

[4] FAO (2016). FAOSTAT database collections.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC

[5] N. E. Tiku  and F. A. Bullem (2015). Oil palm marketing, Nigeria-lessons to learn from Malaysia experience, opportunities and foreign direct investment in Cross River State. Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics. Vol. 7(7), pp. 243-252, July, 2015. http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JDAE/article-full-text-pdf/D37218E53800

[6] Chris R. Shepherd and Nolan Magnus (2004). Nowhere To Hide: The Trade In Sumatran Tiger. Traffic Southeast Asia http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/157301/2327126/1231159639387/traffic_species_mammals15.pdf?token=yhsJPxUPvcQO71%2FgkehGmHL0rLU%3D

[7] Chris R. Shepherd and Nolan Magnus (2004). Nowhere To Hide: The Trade In Sumatran Tiger. Traffic Southeast Asia http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/157301/2327126/1231159639387/traffic_species_mammals15.pdf?token=yhsJPxUPvcQO71%2FgkehGmHL0rLU%3D

[8] Erik Meijaard et al (2011). Quantifying Killing of Orangutans and Human-Orangutan Conflict in Kalimantan, Indonesia. PLOS ONE 7(3)  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0027491

[9] Fred Pearce (2013). Push for traceable supply chains threatens smallholder farmers. nhttps://wle.cgiar.org/thrive/2013/10/09/push-traceable-supply-chains-threatens-smallholder-farmers

[10] JENA Economic Research (2010): Recalculating Default Values for Palm Oil http://zs.thulb.uni-jena.de/receive/jportal_jparticle_00238509

[11] IOP Science (2013):  Use of Oil Palm Waste as a renewable energy source and its impact on reduction of air pollution in context of Malaysia: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/16/1/012026/pdf

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