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theOilPalmTruth

Claim – The University of York has blamed oil palm plantations for restricting the movement of butterflies in Malaysia, based on research undertaken in Sabah.

Palm oil is no different to any other crop. Research on species movement and agriculture has been undertaken on all kinds of agriculture and forestry activities, covering any number of species and in a range of countries, including Europe. But studies on biodiversity and farming in Europe don’t try to blame any particular crop. The University of York attempts to do so clumsily and without justification. Is this problem unique to palm oil? No. Is it unique to Malaysia? No.

Do cities and urbanisation stop the movement of butterflies? Yes. But there isn’t a movement of anti-population campaigners in Europe calling for less building in developing countries.

This leads to a bigger question about sustainable development.

Are the butterflies threatened? Not according to the study. But there’s a message here that oil palm should be stopped because butterflies can’t fly where they used to.

If every agricultural development was halted because of the movement of a species, it would be even more difficult for developing countries to climb out of poverty.

This is a lazy attempt to blame palm oil for a wide-ranging global question. We could call this the ‘Academic Butterfly Effect’. A butterfly flaps its wings in Malaysia, which leads to a university publicity department unjustly smearing palm oil in the UK.

Smacks of British Colonialism.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- Radical MEPs submit anti-palm oil amendments to the European Parliament’s report on Palm Oil and Deforestation

Truth:

Members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) have prepared a set of amendments to the Committee’s draft report on Palm Oil. The original report from MEP Katerina Konecna contains multiple factual errors and misconceptions.

The amendments show that MEP Konecna’s colleagues have adopted the same long-disproved anti-palm oil myths.

  • Multiple amendments claim that Palm Oil is the main cause of deforestation, a claim that has been debunked even by the Green NGO, Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • MEPs appear to blame palm oil for all global environmental ills: when evidence from the Center for Global Development and Climate Focus proves that the Palm Oil industry has been a global leader on environmental commitments
  • One amendment even bizarrely claims that Palm Oil contains trans fats, contrary to all evidence and scientific research.

In short, the usual combination of Green myths, and previously disproved attempts to smear Palm Oil.

The Oil Palm Truth will be rebutting the specific factual errors made by the MEPs over the coming weeks, ahead of the Committee’s vote in March 2017.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- Reuters ran a news piece with the headline “Plantations seen behind more than half Malaysian Borneo deforestation”. The story is based on a paper by CIFOR researchers.

Truth:

The story implies that Malaysia is an environmental bad-guy, and that plantations are the culprit.

But here are the facts. The dramatic headline is not in any way justified when you examine the actual data from the research.

The study looks at deforestation in Borneo between 1973 and 2015.

In Malaysian Borneo in 1973, total forest area was 15.1 million ha – a full two-thirds of the land area. In the study period – more than 40 years — 4.2 million ha was cleared; 2.7 million ha of this forest area was for plantations. In other words, just 18 per cent of the original forest area has made way for plantations over a long period of time. (Consider that Australia has lost 3.8 million ha of forest area since 1990 alone).

According to the author’s data, more than half of Malaysian Borneo is still forested: illustrating that a substantial commitment to forest protection is in place. The population in Malaysian Borneo has more than tripled in the same period, and plantations in Borneo have been a vital source of economic growth for Malaysia’s economy. Around 35 per cent of Malaysia’s palm oil area is cultivated by small farmers, reducing poverty and improving life chances.

Reporting data findings such as these is important for informed debate. Sensationalist headlines from Reuters journalists are irresponsible and contribute nothing to that debate.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- Food ‘journalist’ Joanna Blythman claims that food manufacturers should ‘eliminate palm oil’ because it is the ‘dirtiest ingredient on our shelves’.

Truth:

Blythman has a habit of dog-whistling on food. She’s gone after quinoa previously, only to have her story debunked by economists. She’s hounded respected academics for publishing research on organic food that she disagreed with, and drawn ire from medical researchers for her ‘emotional’ approach to organics.

Blythman claims that palm oil is a ‘driver of rainforest destruction’. As has been pointed out by a range of research papers, other commodities such as beef, soybean and maize have a much larger deforestation footprint than palm oil. Dr Doug Boucher of the Union of Concerned Scientists went so far as to say that companies and NGOs “have had our priorities wrong” on deforestation and palm oil.

On the environment more broadly, Blythman is off the mark. Even NGOs such as WWF state that the “production of sugarcane has probably caused a greater loss of biodiversity on the planet that any other single crop.”

Blythman is happy to extol the virtues of Italian tinned tomatoes. Is she going to follow through and call for a boycott given reports on the exploitation of immigrant workers in Italy? Or a boycott of chocolate because of ongoing child labour problems with cocoa?

Does Blythman genuinely care about child labour, working conditions and gender equality among farmers in Southeast Asia? Or does she only care about denigrating palm oil and pandering to a well-heeled and biased Western middle-class audience, who think that boycotting palm oil – and eating rustic Italian tomatoes — will magically solve these problems?

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- The NGO Union Concerned of Scientists has admitted palm oil deforestation is around one-tenth of commodities such as beef, and significantly lower than soy and maize.

Truth:

The UCS statement is a self-described mea culpa that shows MPOC has been right all along.

MPOC and other palm oil advocates have been writing about this for years. We have pointed to studies from the European Commission, the Centre for Global Development and Climate Focus that have proven the clear hypocrisy from environmental campaigners that are prepared to go after palm oil on deforestation grounds, but ignore beef, soybean, maize and other crops.  These reports show that beef deforestation is ten times higher than deforestation from palm oil.

UCS now also makes it clear that the palm oil industry has been the global leader in terms of making zero deforestation commitments. It’s also apparent that campaign groups have put more resources into demonising palm oil than any other commodities. Is this because the major producers of commodities like beef and soybean are in Western developed countries such as the US, EU and Canada?

Now there are two questions for UCS. Will UCS and its other green comrades stop demonising palm oil? And will they apologise to the world’s 3 million palm oil small farmers for unjustly making them undesirable?

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The Oil Palm The Oil Palm

Making Palm Oil ‘Socially Unacceptable’

The campaign against palm oil is ever-evolving. In the 1980s and 1990s, the US soybean lobby campaigned on health grounds. Since 2000, the campaign shifted to environmental concerns, largely supported by the rapeseed and sunflower industries in Europe and led by radical Green NGOs.

In recent years this has taken on a new and more comprehensive approach. Its clear objective is to make palm oil ‘socially unacceptable’. This new approach has been aggressive: even Prince Harry has been drawn into the debate, arguing recently that palm oil should be as socially unacceptable as cigarettes.

Harry’s misinformed comments reveal the tactics of the anti-palm oil campaign. It is the same tactic that radical campaigners have used to good effect to shut down and restrict other products that they object to. Palm oil is now in their sights, and they have a clear playbook.

The first part of the campaign is well underway. That is the push to make palm oil consumption more visible – to give them an easy-to-see target. This has already happened in food in many countries. There was considerable pressure to have palm oil specifically labelled in Europe, which has been implemented in law. Lobbying by NGOs is now focused on bringing that transparency to bear in the United States and Australia and New Zealand.

Once palm oil can be easily seen and identified by consumers through labelling, the second, more insidious, part of the campaign takes off. This is to push for products to be free of palm oil: the results of this can be seen in the proliferation of No Palm Oil labels by companies across Europe.

These labels, though, are clearly illegal. There are rules governing the use of negative claims in food labelling in the EU and Australia. There needs to be a justifiable case as to why something can be labelled ‘free’ of a particular product. In most cases this is for health reasons, e.g. dairy or soy. Dairy and soy are both sources of allergens. Hydrogenated soybean oil is a major source of trans fats. This does not apply to palm oil, which is not an allergen.

The real goal is to poison the minds of consumers against palm oil: when enough products indicate and advertise that they do not contain a specific product, consumers begin to see that product as ‘socially unacceptable’ to consume.

This campaign has even been openly admitted by some campaigners – in an article late last year; the author posited a hypothetical situation where consumers would eat crackers containing palm oil in secret.

The arguments used by the anti-palm oil campaigners remain weak. First, there is the health case. As stated above, this case is tenuous and has been tried over a 30 year period. New evidence has closed this case comprehensively from a scientific perspective. The NGOs, however, do not care for science.

Second, there is the environmental case. Environmental justification for avoiding palm oil has taken on many guises. It has gone through the wildlife conservation case, the climate change case, the peat case and more recently the fire and haze case. In all these cases, claims by campaigners have been rebutted with evidence. Once again, what they lack in evidence, the campaigners make up with persistence. If a message is repeated enough, people will simply accept it.

Third – and this is the newest part of the campaign – is the attempt to make a social case against palm oil. Most recently, attacks have been made on palm oil for links to child labour, human rights abuses and property rights infringements.

This last part of the campaign is particularly dangerous, and has been focused on audiences in the United States. It must be urgently dealt with if palm oil is to avoid this narrative becoming as ingrained as the environmental narrative is in Europe.

In most of these cases, there are no distinctions made between the sources of the palm oil whether companies or countries. The target is the commodity itself.

And as is often the case in Western markets, people don’t necessarily need legitimate reasons to think something is unacceptable. If they are convinced by consistent NGO and media claims that a product is socially or morally unacceptable, they will ignore scientific evidence and legal rulings. The campaigners now plan to inflict the same socially unacceptable fate onto palm oil.

Tobacco, of course, is the ultimate socially unacceptable product. Prince Harry’s comments were not an accident: the comparison with tobacco is the dream of palm oil’s opponents. This is how they would like palm oil to be treated: taxed, restricted, ostracised.

The weak arguments against palm oil haven’t changed. But neither has the determination of opponents. What has changed is that there is now a concerted plan using all methods available to send palm oil down the same, well-travelled path to social banishment that has been suffered by other products, such as tobacco. The palm oil industry must act fast to avoid this fate.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- A World Bank education policy analyst has claimed in The Diplomat that the blame for last year’s haze crisis on global “rapacious palm oil companies” and demand for “dirty palm oil”.

Truth

The article in The Diplomat is replete with untruths and previously-debunked claims.  The most egregious is the attempt to blame palm oil. It is a lazy conclusion, that ignores clear evidence to the contrary.

It is generally understood by forest and environment experts in the field that the causes of the fires are complex. However, even a basic look at the available satellite data for Sumatra – the region identified in the article – indicates that just 7 per cent of fire alerts in Sumatra in 2015 were in palm oil concessions. A full 36 per cent were in timber and pulpwood concessions. A large percentage of the fires within concessions were a result of the actions of small farmers.  Researchers estimate that in Sumatra around half of all burned area was occupied – illegally — by small farmers. 57 per cent were completely outside of concessions.

In other words, around 3.5 per cent of fire alerts in Sumatra in 2015 can be attributed to ‘rapacious palm oil companies’. The article’s aggressive hyperbole is totally fact-free.

Even the secondary claims in the article are inaccurate. The claims of 90,000 deaths has been disproved already; and the claims of inaction from Singapore and Malaysia are also untrue. One example stands out: Singapore imposed penalties primarily on paper companies (not palm oil companies) during the 2015 haze event.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- ‘Kids Cut Conflict Palm Oil’ is a group of school children claiming that palm oil is harming wildlife and causing broader environmental problems in Southeast Asia.

Truth:

This group of well-meaning schoolchildren is being ruthlessly exploited by hidden NGOs with an aggressive anti-palm oil agenda. It is sad to see the lengths that the NGOs will go: using Western expat kids as props to attack small farmers of palm oil.

The facts: Millions of children from small farmer families across less wealthy parts of Indonesia and Malaysia – have had their lives transformed by oil palm cultivation. The income from palm oil has led to less poverty, more education, better infrastructure, and a brighter future for these children.

Instead of exploiting schoolchildren, Wildlife Asia and other NGOs should actually take a grown-up approach. Working with industry to achieve the twin goals of environmental protection and human development would be a good start, instead of childish, exploitative attack campaigns.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- New Yorker Endorses #FakeNews!: A recent article in the New Yorker implied in no uncertain terms that there is a link between palm oil and violence.

Truth:

Here are the facts. First, this is not a journalistic article. It is environmental propaganda. The New Yorker actually admits this. In very small print at the foot of the article, it is acknowledged that the piece is supported by FERN, a radical Green NGO that consistently makes false claims.

The FERN-supported New Yorker piece attempts to link violence with oil palm plantations in different parts of the world, and to claim that the palm oil industry has a systematic problem. This is manifestly untrue.

The incidents mentioned are individual tragedies. However, a small number of isolated incidents cannot be used to condemn an entire industry. The piece does not attempt to assess the underlying causes of violence not linked to palm oil producers – including weak institutions or problematic land tenure systems.

The report does not mention more than 3 million small farmers around the world who grow palm oil with no violent incidents. Or that the ‘global palm oil boom’, as the report puts it, has brought untold benefits for the rural poor in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The New Yorker, sadly, has been duped by FERN into scapegoating palm oil when the evidence simply does not support that conclusion.

Global Witness, an NGO, linked 185 deaths with environmental activism in 2015. Top of the list was mining activism. The most deaths occurred in Brazil, the Philippines and Colombia. However, FERN and the New Yorker are not interested in facts. They only want to blame Malaysian palm oil, regardless of the facts.

Another piece for the #fakenews list in 2016.

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theOilPalmTruth

Claim- A recent documentary on palm oil plantations in Africa claims that recreating an experiment undertaken at a Swedish University proves that palm oil is unhealthy.

Truth:

The documentary is deliberately misleading. The experiment in question was not about palm oil; but rather about saturated fats in general . Nutritionists pointed out in follow-up articles that saturated fat intake should not be blamed on palm oil – the biggest source of saturated fats are dairy and meat products.

The paradigm on saturated fats is rapidly changing, as more and more research shows that the old, outdated claim that saturated fats are harmful per se, is wrong and has been disproved.