The WHO’s Rehash of Tired, Old and Debunked Claims against Palm Oil

Last week, the WHO affirmed why many countries have lost their trust in this once-vaunted multilateral institution. In an article in with WHO Bulletin – they rehashed tired, old and previously debunked claims against Palm Oil – to become a pawn in the global anti-Palm Oil Inc. crusade.

This is a sad but true indictment of the WHO.

Rather than engaging in a fulsome debate on saturated fats or asking European leaders why they have not followed the lead of the U.S. and completely eliminated trans fats from the processed food supply chain, the WHO chose to compare the Palm Oil industry to tobacco and alcohol. A claim that can be scientifically proven false.

This calls into question the institution, and its role as the global standard-bearer for public health.

For the authors, Sowmya Kadandale (UNICEF), Robert Marten (the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) & Richard Smith (College of Medicine and Health – University of Exeter). Richard Smith and his team are not newbies, leading a crusade funded by Wellcome, an “independent global charitable foundation”, with its POSHE (Palm Oil: Sustainability, Health and Economics) project aimed at imposing its colonial will on Palm Oil producing countries.

Here’s the facts Sowmya, Robert and Richard conveniently left out:

Myth #1 on Health: “link consumption of palm oil to increased ischaemic heart disease mortality, raised low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other adverse effects”

Fact: Palm Oil is a balanced oil, with 50% saturated and 50% unsaturated fatty acids. It is 100% free of GMOs.

Studies have proven Palm Oil to have a neutral impact on cardiovascular health, neither increasing levels of good/bad cholesterol, similar to the impact of olive oil.

Institutions confirming these facts on Palm Oil and health include studies from respected institutions around the world – among them, the University of Cambridge (UK)[1], the Journal of American Clinical Nutrition (USA)[2], the French Food & Health Foundation (France)[3], and the Mario Negri Institute (Italy)[4].

Myth #2 on Health: “Estimations suggest that more than two-thirds of the palm produced goes to food products, making the processed food industry’s relationship with the palm oil industry critical…an increase in the use of palm oil as a potential replacement for TFA in ultra-processed foods could be anticipated”

Fact: This is again another hypocrisy from the WHO. WHO previously took the stance of confirming Palm Oil as a positive alternative to dangerous trans fats. It has now backpedaled, criticizing its uptake.

Palm Oil is a healthy replacement for dangerous trans fats and the WHO, in its own 2018 recommendation, declared that it was a positive alternative to trans fats. Is WHO suggesting to revert back to more trans fats into processed food instead of having health alternatives such as Palm Oil?

Myth #3 on Environment: “Forest, peatland and biodiversity losses, increased greenhouse gas emissions and habitat fragmentation as well as pollution are environmental concerns continually linked to the palm oil industry”.

Fact: ‘Linked’ is a word used regularly by the WHO to insinuate an assertion that is not found in evidence. EU research proves that Palm Oil is not a major factor in global deforestation. In fact, livestock (beef) accounts for 10 times more deforestation than Palm Oil. Soy accounts for more than double.

Palm Oil is the world’s most efficient oilseed crop. When compared to other vegetable oils, Palm Oil consumes considerably less energy in production, using less land and generating more oil per hectare than other vegetable oils.

Other competitive oilseeds, such as rapeseed and sunflower, use respectively, five times the amount of pesticides compared to Palm Oil, and for sunflower 4 times more land to produce the same amount of oil.

Myth #4 on Sustainability: The Palm Oil industry “portrays its products as sustainable”

Fact: Yes, it does. Because Malaysian Palm Oil is sustainable. Malaysia is a recognized world-leader in Palm Oil sustainability, and forest conservation more widely. The Malaysian Government has committed to protecting at least 50% of land as forest area. Malaysia maintains 54.9% of its land area under forest cover, which exceeds Malaysia’s commitment of 50% at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This commitment has been recognized by the United Nations.

Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification will be made mandatory by December 2019. MSPO is based on ISO best-practices and addresses the environmental, social and economic aspects of Palm Oil production, cultivation and processing methods, protecting forests and wildlife, safeguarding workers’ welfare and safety and providing a living wage.

Malaysian Palm Oil already meets stringent certification measures around the world – including for access to the EU market.

Myth #5 on Small Farmers: The Palm Oil industry “uses poverty alleviation arguments”

Fact: Yes, this is correct. And here’s why:

Palm Oil is one of the most successful poverty alleviation tools in Malaysia, helping to reduce the country’s poverty rate from 50% after independence, to less than 5% today.

Pushing for a withdrawal from using Palm Oil, as the WHO is advocating, would lead to sentencing more than 650,000 Malaysian small farmers and their families, who are reliant on Palm Oil, to a life of poverty and prevent rural communities from achieving better health and life prospects. Goals which the WHO should encourage instead of condemning.

Is the WHO pro-poverty?

 

[1] University of Cambridge, [1] Chowdhury et al: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638

[2] The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010? Arne Astrup, Jørn Dyerberg, Peter Elwood, Kjeld Hermansen, Frank B Hu, Marianne Uhre Jakobsen, Frans J Kok, Ronald M Krauss, Jean Michel Lecerf, Philippe LeGrand, Paul Nestel, Ulf Risérus, Tom Sanders, Andrew Sinclair, Steen Stender, Tine Tholstrup, and Walter C Willett

[3] FFAS Report: http://www.alimentation-sante.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Etatdeslieux_HdP_1112.pdf

[4] Fattore & Fanelli, Mario Negri Institute: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23406428