KUCHING: Malaysia is deeply concerned with French Senator Yves Daudigny’s proposed 300 per cent tax increase on palm oil, indicating that the proposal is based on inaccurate claims that it is bad for health and nutrition.
According to Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s (MPOC) statement, its chief executive officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said that Malaysia did respect the environment and palm oil was a healthy, natural as well as important product which 240,000 small farmers in Malaysia were proud to produce.
Contrary to Daudigny’s comments, Yusof stated that nutritional and food experts had concluded that palm oil was in fact free of dangerous trans fats, free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and contained valuable vitamins.
“A study from Fonds Francais Alimentation et Sante finds that replacing palm oil is a bad option for French consumers, potentially leading to a rise in the level of trans fat consumption,” he pointed out.
He further said it was important allegations or claims made about palm oil as high in saturated fat were assessed in relation to the total fat consumption of the French population.
“The majority of saturated fats consumed in France comes from animal sources such as meat, milk, cheese or butter and not from palm oil,” he added.
The senator’s proposal to deny palm oil its righful place in food manufacturing would not only be an economic and functional opportunity loss to industry, but also for the French people if they involuntarily consumed worse alternatives such as hydrogenated (high trans fat) sunflower or rapeseed oil.
The French consumed about 101 kilogrammes (kg) of meat per person per year with an average of 15kg of saturated fat content, while milk consumption per person was 92.2 litres containing 4kg of milk fats which belonged to the saturated fats category, the statement said.
Cheese, on the same side, had 30 per cent animal fat content and the French were well known to consume 24kg of cheese per capita, which provided eight kgs of saturated animal fats. Butter consumption was 7.3kg per capita which was 100 per cent saturated animal fats.
“If we were to add this up, the total animal saturated fats from milk, meat, cheese and butter per person per year is 34.4kg. In comparison palm oil consumption per capita in France is only two kg,” said Yusof.
On the environmental front, Malaysian palm oil had a proven track record on efficient land use and conservation.
Malaysia had over 50 per cent of its land committed to forest cover and had designated just over 24 per cent of total land area for agricultural purposes. In contrast forest area in France covered just 28 per cent of total land area – but agricultural land covered over 50 per cent of total land area.
“Palm oil yields 4.13 tonnes of vegetable oil per hectare, or 10, seven and five times the yields of soybean, sunflower and rapeseed, respectively, and occupies less than five per cent of land under oilseed cultivation,” he explained.
He stressed that the action taken by Daudigny to propose onerous new burdens on palm oil producers was irresponsible, badly-informed and ignored the primary source of saturated fats in the French diet.
“Not only will the legislative proposal hurt the local business communities in France, which have opted to use palm oil for its superior economic and functional attributes, but the attack comes after the start of talks by Malaysian palm oil respresentatives with French leaders.
“Over 240,000 small farmers across Malaysia depend on palm oil for their livelihoods. In addition to this, many thousands of other jobs in Malaysia depend upon related industries,” he added.
MPOC called upon the French government to reject the proposal by Daudigny. Instead of aggressive and unprovoked attack against palm oil, he should focus his efforts on all saturated fats.
“This campaign has already been the focus of a complaint by small farmers in Africa and Malaysia. These actions will significantly undermine the competitiveness of the French food industry – domestically and globally,” Yusof concluded.