Bek-Nielsen joins Malaysian effort to clear palm oil misconception

Danish senior executive of United Plantations Bhd., Tan Sri B. Bek-Nielsen, recently joined Malaysia’s latest effort to clear up negative perception among northern Europeans about palm oil industry, saying it is wrong to say that local plantation companies destroyed rainforests in planting oil palm.
     “Most of the 3.5 million ha of oil palm hectarage in the country were previously rubber and coconut estates,” he pointed out.
     Some non-governmental organisations and European countries label palm oil as an environmentally damaging oil, citing massive rainforest destruction and the loss of orang utan habitat caused by overly aggressive plantation companies opening up more land for oil palm plantations.
     A documentary entitled Food that Kills, aired in Sweden on December 25 last year, depicted deforestation and animal killings for the sake of reaping the commercial value in oil palm. This has caused an uproar among edible oils consumers in Sweden and resulted in a chain reaction, with nearby countries boycotting palm oil and other tropical edible oils, produced mostly by third world countries.
     Mr. Bek-Nielsen said the European countries must understand that economy and ecology must go hand-in-hand, particularly for third world countries which need to develop and prosper.
     “Only of late did some big plantation companies expand hectarage to Sabah and Sarawak, as well as to Indonesia, where land is abundant, cheap and suitable for oil palm.”
     He added that local oil palm growers are more advanced and systematic in their replanting programme, and adopt good forestation practices.
     “Based on my previous experience, Malaysia needs to put forward a strong stand reaffirming the natural goodness of our palm oil.”
     He said, using proven research undertaken by six US-based scientific research organisations, Malaysia succeeded in cleaning up the image of palm oil tarnished by the American Soybean Association (ASA).
     Mr. Bek-Nielsen was the Malaysian representative to the US to counter ASA’s anti-palm oil and anti-tropical oil campaign in the late 1980s.
     “We convinced American consumers that palm oil does not cause cardiovascular complications, refuting what was highlighted by the ASA,” he added.
     Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik has recently stated, “The (northern European) countries cannot touch us on health issues, so they are harping on other things. Whatever issues they come up with, we will take them on one by one.”
     Dr. Lim is expected to visit Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, where the European smear campaigns originated, for at least two weeks beginning May 28.
     Meanwhile, West Malaysian Palm Oil Growers Association president Tan Sri Dr. Jesse J.C. Chang said the European countries must understand that Malaysian palm oil growers “planted the land with crops and not let it become waste land”.
     The smear campaigns against palm oil are likely linked to the fear of palm oil competitiveness, he added.
     Europe is Malaysia’s third largest buyer of palm oil after India and China. The exports to Europe makes up about 14% of the country’s total palm oil export market.

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