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Palm oil: A Boon or a Ban?

Posted: Apr 20, 2022 5 minute read GAR 815 views
Image Source: The Grocer

Over the years, palm oil has been regarded as a controversial ingredient, and its advantages have mainly remained unrecognised. But the recent reversal of Iceland Foods’ ban on palm oil has again fuelled a discussion on this subject. It might have been a tad simplistic for the UK retailer to have banned this ingredient, for starters.

As we have learnt, supply chains are prone to be disrupted whether due to a global pandemic, regional conflict, or climate change. When supply chain disruptions happen, responsible buyers should be able to switch to a sustainably produced alternative. Unfortunately, Iceland Foods failed to invest in the certified sustainable production of palm oil. It demonised the crop and now finds itself in the embarrassing position of having to “backflip” on palm.

Ironically, Iceland Foods is now reluctantly turning to certified sustainable palm oil to keep French fries in its freezers. Because palm oil, when sustainably grown, is not only an excellent choice for the planet but it also offers tangible health benefits for the otherwise “occasional choice” foods Iceland Foods is renowned for.

Palm oil is inherently a trans-fat-free ingredient with nutritional qualities protecting against several diseases. It is extracted from the fruits of the oil palm trees that require significantly lesser land than other edible oils to produce the maximum oil per unit of land. Perhaps it is time we gave this ingredient a fresh look and, of course, its rightful status.

It is a much healthier option
Palm oil carries a list of pluses when offering nutrition and health benefits. It is a rich source of beta-carotene and contains tocopherols and tocotrienols. These are constituents of the antioxidant Vitamin E that supports the immune system, prevents heart diseases and neurodegeneration, and lowers the risk of cancer.

This non-GMO vegetable oil is semi-solid in its naturally-occurring form at room temperature, eliminating the need for partial hydrogenation (which is what causes trans-fatty acids to form), as is necessary in the case of sunflower or corn oil while making margarine. This makes palm oil naturally trans-fat-free. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), trans fat or trans-fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids that increase the risk of death from any cause by 34 percent and coronary heart diseases by 21 percent. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), trans-fat is also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

At Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), we are constantly working towards creating trans-fat-free healthy options. Our Downstream Research and Development department based in Marunda is working on the nutritional aspects of palm-based food products. Its current focus includes making diets healthier by eliminating industrial trans-fatty acids.

It is the most resource-efficient oil in the world!
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 10 billion people to feed. To feed these many people, we will need an extra 200.25 million tons of vegetable oil. Where will all this oil come from? Say we decide to produce soybean oil to meet this need, then we will need 400 million hectares of farmland. Palm oil, on the other hand, will only require 54 million hectares of farmland to meet this additional requirement of food. In fact:

  • To produce one tonne (T) of sunflower oil, we require 1.16 hectares (ha) of land.
  • To produce 1T of rapeseed oil, we require 1.26 ha of land.
  • Producing 1T of soybean oil requires 1.95 ha of land.
  • Palm oil requires only 0.32 ha of land to produce the same quantity of oil.

Oil palm trees provide an average of five times more yield-per-hectare than any other edible vegetable oil crop (and require the least fertiliser and pesticides). As a result, it is the most resource-efficient vegetable oil in the world!

Today, oil palm accounts for 35 percent of world production of vegetable oil while relying on just 8 percent of the global land allocated to oilseed crops. This makes palm oil far more resource-efficient than its vegetable oil counterparts. Switching to palm oil could make a huge difference in a world that is swiftly heading towards exhausting its resources like land and water.

It is sustainable and responsible
Sustainable production ensures environmental compliance at every level of the supply chain, even as it assures consumers a final product that is healthy and safe to consume. However, Richard Walker of Iceland Foods recently went on record to say that there is no such thing as sustainably produced palm oil. GAR disagrees. We’ve spent decades working on ensuring that our production process is carried out sustainably. From the sustainable sourcing of seeds to environmentally compliant cultivation methods, GAR ensures that our final product is “responsibly produced”. We emphasise the need to protect the ecology and the environment. As the first Indonesian palm oil company to adopt a Zero Burning Policy since 1997, we have stopped using traditional slash and burn cultivation methods. Transparency and traceability are crucial elements of these sustainability efforts that ensure what has been put on paper is actualised on the ground.

Our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP), launched in 2015, embodies our belief in the idea that environmental protection, economic growth, and social progress can and should go hand-in-hand.

We have taken an active role in helping villages and rural communities with better access to amenities like healthcare, day-care centres for children, schools, etc., to ensure them a better quality of life. Through our ongoing efforts of educating children, upgrading the skills of women, and offering guidance in farming methods, we serve as a responsible corporate neighbour to these villages and help reduce rural poverty and boost socio-economic development.

Responding to Iceland Food’s change of heart, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) director-general (DG) Datuk Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir pointed out that if the retailer was really promoting environmental sustainability, it would advocate the use of certified sustainable palm oil rather than ban it from all its own-brand foods since the latter does not solve the issue.

This resonates strongly with GAR’s perspective. We need buy-cotts not boycotts. Our customers choose to purchase palm oil from GAR because they want to invest in and support the sustainable transformation of the sector. In fact, if more people recognised the list of pluses that sustainably produced palm oil brings to the table, more good could be delivered for people and the planet.

As a fully integrated business, we can customise safe and high-quality palm oil products. Reach out to find out more.

If you would like to find out more about GAR’s Products & Services, read here.

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