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The heart-healthy palm oil

KUALA LUMPUR: DEVELOPING countries have been the target of loud calls against deforestation, but there has, ironically,  yet to be any initiative or proposal for the British government to reforest its own country.

The stark reality is that the United Kingdom forest acareage remains at only 12 per cent of the country’s land mass.

In contrast, another important fact that often goes unnoticed is that more than half of Malaysia’s land mass is covered by forest reserves and national parks.

Malaysia’s oil palm companies have long been practising ethical business. In 2006, oil palm planters made a commendable effort by establishing the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOCWF) to participate in the conservation of wildlife biodiversity in Malaysia. The RM20-million MPOCWF is also part-financed by taxpayers.

Some of MPOCWF initiatives include undertaking a survey of the orang utan population in Sabah. The survey, carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department, the French non-governmental organisation Hutan and Borneo Conservation Trust, mapped out many of their dwelling sites.

Over in Sarawak, the MPOCWF works with Sarawak Forestry Corp to keep tabs on wildlife habitats that share common boundaries with oil palm plantations.

With the western media frequently implicating oil palm planting as the main cause of deforestation and climate change, one might be inclined to think that the average British shuns any food item containing palm oil.

But that is not true. Many British nationals who have previously resided in Malaysia are familiar with the practice of good agriculture here.

Datuk Leslie Davidson had lived in Malaysia as a young planter from the 1940s to 1960s. At the pinnacle of his career, Davidson was a former chairman of Unilever’s plantation arm. 

His passion for the plantation industry never waned and this was reflected in the latest edition of his book, titled East of Kinabalu.

Until today, he continues to keep abreast of developments in the global oil palm industry as “we can’t live without palm oil”.

In a recent interview with the New Sunday Times, the 81-year-old Scotsman shed light on the views of the average Briton on palm oil that is present in our food like cooking oil, margarine, cookies, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and candies.

During his many decades in Malaysia, Davidson consumed palm oil every day in many dishes, including salad dressings and curry chicken. “Now that I’ve come back here to the UK, it is heartening to note that cookies and cakes are baked in palm fats but I still find it difficult to locate red palm oil on supermarket shelves,” he said in an interview from Sussex, the UK.

He said Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco and William Morrison were the only few local stores that sold Carotino red palm oil which he put in his porridge every morning for its cardio-vascular benefits. “>It says on the label that “it is ethically sourced from environmentally sustainable plantations”.

“Since nearly all oil palm plantations are sustainable, the label is fairly meaningless,” Davidson said. “If there is one lobby that is more important to the average consumer than the environmental lobby, it is the health lobby.”

Davidson said the British media tended to spin emotion-stirring tales linking palm oil to the destruction of orang utan habitats but the fact remained that palm oil was the world’s most sustainable vegetable oil, yielding four tonnes from 1ha, whereas rivals like soya bean and rape seed take up six to 10 times more land.

He is glad that many European food manufacturers have incorporated heart-healthy palm bakery fats in their range of ready-to serve meals. 

He also notes that the United States government has legislated against artificial trans fat from consumers’ diet as more medical studies prove this deadly fat causes heart attacks and stroke.

Artificial trans fat is produced when soft oils like soya bean, canola and sunflower are partially-hydrogenated to make bakery fats.

Health books like The Palm Oil Miracle written by Dr Bruce Fife highlighted the dangers of artificial trans fat and that consumers are better off eating food cooked in palm oil and margarine.

Although this book is sold at major health food stores in the UK, Davidson lamented that many consumers there would be better at making informed choices if there were more public awareness on the health benefits of palm oil.  “What I would like to see is not just the book but red palm oil itself on shelves of more supermarkets and major health food chains. So far, it is almost non-existent.”

Davidson’s point of view is an eye-opener. Often, oil palm planters in Malaysia get so worked up responding to attacks from environmental activists that they forget that the average consumer is more moved to buy red palm oil or a tub of palm margarine if it proves to be heart healthy.



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  1. July 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    "Davidson's point of view is an eye-opener. Often, oil palm planters in Malaysia get so worked up responding to attacks from environmental activists that they forget that the average consumer is more moved to buy red palm oil or a tub of palm margarine if it proves to be heart healthy."MPOB…take action on this point of view. Launch publicity campaigns on heart health benefits of palm oil. Use Datuk Leslie as model .. publish his lipid profile (if its ok), use his picture , he certainly looks great for his age and his daily consumption of the red carotino

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