Palm oil is an important ingredient in a large percentage of foods and consumer products. Around the globe, major corporations are taking the necessary steps to ensure they are sourcing only responsibly produced palm oil. In a presentation during the International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference, Malaysian Palm Oil Council CEO Datuk Dr. Kalyana Sundram addressed the many issues driving and impeding palm oil sustainability. 

Despite the increasing amount of palm oil being produced sustainably, Datuk Sundram said there has been a continuous shifting of sustainability goal posts. Despite being the first oil crop in the world with a sustainability certification scheme, palm oil is heavily criticized and penalized while other commodities often escape scrutiny. 

He expressed frustration over untruths that continue to be repeated by lobbyists that there is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. To address this myth, he carefully outlined the rigorous certification standards of Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO); Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). 

Discussing a potential EU palm oil ban, Datuk Sundram pointed out that, “Oil palm is the only vegetable oil crop among 17 others that has gone through stringent certification processes (either voluntary or mandatory). But the EU’s cultivation of rapeseed and sunflower are not similarly and stringently certified but hide behind aging Common Agricultural Policies.” 

While the EU is championing a ban on deforestation, Datuk Sundram stated that “Palm oil contributes to only 2.3% of global deforestation.” 

He concluded his presentation by highlighting the palm oil industry’s strong commitment to environmentalism and sustainability. “The Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation reflects the commitment of the palm oil industry towards the conservation of wildlife and our environment by supporting conservation initiatives related to the industry,” he said. 

Datuk Sundram also dispelled some other pervasive myths. The facts, he stated, include: 

  • The orangutan population has stabilized
  • There is increasing evidence of orangutans using oil palm plantations for nesting and food sources
  • Hunting is a bigger contributor to orangutan population decline 
  • The palm oil industry (through MPOC) is an active partner in orangutan conservation 

He also revealed new policies put in place by the Malaysian government to further enhance the production of sustainable palm oil: 

  • To cap the total oil palm cultivation area at 6.5 million hectares
  • No new oil palm planting in peatland areas
  • To ban conversion of forest reserves for oil palm cultivation 
  • To give public access to oil palm plantation maps

In his concluding remarks, Datuk Sundram stressed that the continuous pressure and unsubstantiated criticism against palm’s sustainability efforts will only slow its progress. “Moving forward, it cannot and should not be only palm that is subjected to such rigors of certification. All other remaining oils and fats, no matter where they are produced, must also demonstrate similar and robust certification systems.”