Palm oil is found in almost 50% of food products found in the supermarket. From chocolates to biscuits and peanuts butter to ice-cream, palm oil in its various forms and derivatives are a common ingredient in these food products. This is probably the most used claim by campaigners against palm oil but that is the fact. In addition, palm oil is also used in the production of personal care products such as shampoo and toothpaste, also in household cleaning products such as detergents and cleaners.
Easter, a festival celebrated by the Christians and a holiday in most countries in Europe and the US, it is that time of the year that certain consumer groups and NGO will spring up the digital weed on how bad palm oil is and which gets shared on social media without separating the myths and the misinformation about palm oil similar to the internet meme on Easter to be named after “Ishtar” which is considered to be historically inaccurate and a wild-eyed conspiracy. Easter customs vary across the world with sunrise services, Paschal greetings and decorating Easter eggs including joyous practice such as egg hunting and Easter bunny. Easter eggs and bunnies are vastly used in the celebration during this holiday season, where it is crafted from chocolates and candies.
Palm Oil in Chocolates
Europeans dominate the top 20 chocolate consuming countries where confection sales are at peak during Easter and Halloween. Beyond US and European consumption, the World Cocoa Foundation predicts the global demand for chocolate will continue to grow as discretionary income increases in developing markets such as Brazil, China and India. Cocoa butter is in a higher demand compared to other cocoa products and cocoa bean producers has been struggling for many years due to fragile cocoa plants and pest attacks. However, cocoa butter alternatives continue to be another key solution for long term profitable production.
The cocoa butter alternatives are easily modified and cheaply produced;
Cocoa Butter Substitute (CBS)
– Palm oil or Coconut oil based and normally contain lauric fatty acids.
– not compatible with cocoa butter but can be mixed at a low percentage.
Cocoa Butter Replacer (CBR)
– Non lauric fats like palm oil, soybean oil, rapeseed oil and cottonseed oil
– Partially compatible with cocoa butter
Cocoa Butter Equivalent (CBE)
– May contain shea, sal nut oil as well as palm, mango kernel fat and palm oil.
– compatible with cocoa butter.
Beyond availability and potential cost reduction, Palm oil when used as cocoa butter alternatives has some advantages;
- Improves the finished product’s fat composition profile and stability. Products maintain consistency in texture and counters softness from other ingredients such as fruits, nuts and milk.
- Many cocoa butter alternatives do not require tempering and it makes it easier to achieve the required texture characteristics like gloss and snap.
- Cocoa butter is unique that it has a sharp melting point at 34⁰C (93⁰F), which is just under the body temperature. Palm based cocoa butter substitute which has similar melting point gives a smooth, creamy texture in the mouth and increases flavour release and gives a similar experience using cocoa butter.
The Misinformation Plague About Palm Oil
Festive seasons such as Easter are the period where misinformation will be fed to the ignorant consumers or the less-informed on the bad effects of palm oil towards health and the environment. Most of these allegations are inaccurate and needs to be understood on the grounds of economics and food applications to enable one to understand palm oil in chocolate manufacturing. These allegations came in many form which further confuses the consumer who is already juggling to look for more reliable and accurate information on palm oil.
Palm Oil Labels Accused Of Being Manipulative
One of the frequently occurring allegation is on the palm oil food labeling where, palm oil is accused of confusing the consumers with many names in which palm oil is considered to be disguised inside the food ingredients. Previously, palm oil has been labeled with a generic term of vegetable oil but this has changed since December 2015 with the new food labeling law which was imposed by EU where it is mandatory for all oils including palm oil to be declared on the product label. Many bloggers and authors confuse the consumers by accusing the industry and the manufacturers who use palm oil as one of their ingredients as being manipulative and labels palm oil with different names and forms. However, they failed to explain the versatility and the essential property of palm oil which enables it to be used in vast food application and manufacturing.
Palm oil is a tropical oil produced from the palm fruit just like the olive fruit oil and it is a natural, Non-GMO oil which is semi solid at room temperature. Palm oil is extracted from the flesh of the fruit while palm kernel oil is obtained from the crushed oil palm seed. Both palm oil and palm kernel oil has different and distinctive properties which enables usage in different application in food and non food products. Palm oil and palm kernel oil can be refined and fractioned to produce other fractions with different properties. Palm oil can be fractioned into palm olein which is the liquid fraction and high in monounsaturated oleic acid which is the primary cooking oil used in tropical and sub-temperate region of the world while palm stearin is the solid fraction from palm fruit oil and is trans fat free which is widely used in bakery and confectionary. Palm kernel oil can be fractioned into palm kernel olein and palm kernel stearin. Palm kernel oil is used widely as coating fats, cocoa butter substitutes and toffee fats, while palm kernel olein and palm kernel stearin are used as confectionary and cooking fats.
Palm Oil Blamed For Driving Wildlife Towards Extinction
One of the frequent cries of the environmental NGOs is about the rate of deforestation which is driving forest species to extinction. Malaysia is frequently accused of causing deforestation and unsustainable development.. Malaysia is a developing country which heavily relies on its natural resources for economic development. However, Malaysia holds strongly to its pledge made in Rio Earth Summit 1992 to uphold 50% of its land under forest cover. This is proven from the recent article “Malaysia is Green and Growing” was posted in the blog “The Oil Palm” – www.theoilpalm.org (http://theoilpalm.org/malaysia-is-green-and-growing/). D’Enghien summarised Malaysian forest situation as published in the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015 report, the new data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with a consistent approach in describing the world’s forests and how they are changing (www.fao.org) through the data represented by this report. He emphasized that the claims by the environmental scouts on the deforestation caused by the palm oil industry is not valid especially in the case of Malaysia. Malaysia seem to be doing pretty well with 22,195,100 ha or 67.06% of forest area. Between 2010 – 2015, forest area has risen by 14,000 ha per year, which is an indication of increased forest land while Global Forest Watch says Malaysia’s forest cover is around 29,000,000 ha, higher than 80% of Malaysia’s number following 1990-2015. While global forest area continues to decline with the ever growing population. The author also highlighted that Malaysia’s forest loss has effectively fallen to zero in the past 25 years.
Malaysia’s Biodiversity Policy
Malaysia has increased its commitment to biodiversity management with the launch of a revised National Policy on Biological Diversity. The policy emphasizes on continued conservation, sustainable utilization and equitable manner. The revised policy provides direction and framework in conserving the nation’s biodiversity in the face of increasing challenges. It has clear targets and actions, timelines for implementation and calls for active participation by all stakeholders. This compliments Malaysia’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and aimed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.
Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF)
The palm oil industry is continuously accused of driving wildlife species to the brink of extinction and the Bornean Orangutans has been in the centre of attention as being the iconic species towards the sentiments from the NGOS and consumers. Other species which are alleged to be suffering the safe fate due to palm oil industry are the Malayan Tiger, the Sunbear, the Bornean Pygmy Elephant and the Sumatran Rhinoceros. Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) was established in 2006 with initial fund of RM 10 Million while the balance fund of RM 10 million was provided by the palm oil industry, in which the fund is managed by Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC). MPOC has the overall responsibility to manage the various conservation projects funded through MPOWCF and continuously identifies conservation projects and assists in the rehabilitation and survival of these iconic species. Through MPOWCF many conferences and seminars has been held to showcase the conservation efforts by the industry and also to portray the current status of wildlife and biodiversity conservation undertaken by many stakeholders. The Sabah Orangutan Conservation Colloquium 2009 and The Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium 2012 was held with collaboration with Sabah Wildlife Department to highlight conservation efforts by the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Palm Oil Industry, highlight studies and findings by research institutions and conservation NGOs to the related stakeholders. MPOC supports other organizations such as PERHILITAN, Sabah Wildlife Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation in their efforts towards wildlife conservation.
Boycotting Palm Oil Is Not The Way Forward
Major calls have been made to boycott palm oil where “anti palm oil campaigns have been initiated and launched especially in the EU and uninformed consumers have been taken for a ride to believe that boycotting palm oil is the solution to stop its domination in the global oils and fats industry. Two of such examples are the ‘Great Italian Food Trade‘ (www.greatitalianfoodtrade.com) and ‘Il Fatto Alimentare‘ (www.ilfattoalimentare.it) which started a campaign to say “STOP to palm oil use”, calling all stakeholders to reflect on the ethical, environmental and health concerns associated with its consumption. The petition, launched over a year ago has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and statements of commitment from major retailers, to rule out palm products from their brand. The motion put across that boycotting palm oil would save the world’s endangered biodiversity is totally wrong and unfortunately the impact may be worse. Lobbying manufacturers to use other types of oil to substitute palm oil will significantly increase land used to grow and produce edible oils. Oil palm is an efficient crop which can produce up to ten times the yield of alternative vegetable oils. The need and use of more land will directly increase deforestation and species loss. The use of soft oils as an alternative to palm oil draws concern of partially-hydrogenated fats which is trans fat which is detrimental to health and demands further modification to food products manufactured.
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil
Certified sustainable palm oil is a growing trend. Companies that use certified sustainable palm oil provide consumers with environmentally friendly options. Palm oil is certified by organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and the German ISCC using guidelines and criteria that were developed through expert consultations and include elements that address deforestation, habitat loss and social conflict. There are also other certification schemes developed at international level while certification schemes has also been implemented by each of the governments of the major palm oil producing countries. Malaysia has established its own certification scheme where the national standard on sustainability is applicable for smallholders and medium / large corporations. The standards ensures compliance towards Malaysian laws and ratifies international agreement and conventions. The standard also encompasses the 3 pillars of sustainability.
Palm Oil is an important commodity in the global oils and fats market and it is an essential vegetable oil for ensuring global food security. Malaysian palm oil is produced sustainably and responsibly while complying to existing national regulations complimented with best practices and plantation management produced without neglecting the environmental impact and its services. Malaysian palm oil is important in supplying the world’s requirement for affordable oils and fats compared to other edible oils. Malaysia’s palm oil industry’s sustainability policy and certification system ensures the production and the availability of high quality palm oil in the global market.
- Berger, Kurt G. (2010). Quality and Functions of Palm Oil in Food Applications – a Layman’s Guide. National Library of Malaysia.
- Darian McBain, Why Demand for Sustainable Palm Oil, http://otter.org.au/why-demand-sustainable-palm-oil/#sthash.IXsQcJnQ.dpuf
- Hamilton Zoo New Zealand Website, Palm Oil Free Easter Guide, http://hamiltonzoo.co.nz/assets/auckland-zoo-palm-oil-free-easter-guide.pdf
- Jess Noble, Easter Chocolate: Watch Out, Palm Oil About, http://otter.org.au/easter-chocolate-report-watch-out-palm-oil-about/
- Jill Frank. (2014). Cocoa Butter Alternatives in Chocolate. Prospector. http://knowledge.ulprospector.com/1085/fbn-cocoa-butter-alternatives-chocolate/
- Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund, http://www.mpoc.org.my/Malaysian_Palm_Oil_Wildlife_Conservation_Fund_%28MPOWCF%29_.aspx
- The Prospector Knowledge Centre, Fatty Acids Profile, http://www.uccs.edu/Documents/danderso/fats_oils.pdf
- Pierre Bois D’Enghien, Malaysia is Green and Growing, The Oil Palm Website, http://theoilpalm.org/malaysia-is-green-and-growing/