Editor’s Note: The Malaysian Star interviewed Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC)’s new CEO Dr. Kalyana Sundram. This is part three of four excerpts we’ll publish from this interview. Prior to being appointed to this post in January 2017, Sundram was MPOC’s Deputy CEO and Science and Environment Director. A well-respected professional, Sundram has served on committees at the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences. He holds 21 palm oil-related patents and has published extensively on palm oil.
Malaysian Star: Why is the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification crucial?
Sundram: This is a big move forward for sustainability. We’ll work closely with the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry and the Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC) to ensure that the objectives of MSPO are achieved and internationally accepted. We must engage with people around the world including legislators and decision makers such as the European Parliament, and tell them how we cultivate oil palm in tandem with forest conservation policies that are in place here.
Malaysian Star: You have over 35 years of industry experience. What are your plans for the MPOC?
Sundram: To promote Malaysian palm oil globally. Our palm oil reaches over 150 countries and it is increasingly being used in many food formulations worldwide.
Before hitting the shelves, the oil has to be refined, processed, packed and branded. We want to reach out to every entity in the supply chain and of course, the end consumer, to convince them that this is a sustainably produced, wholesome, and nutritious, edible oil.
We have many years of science-backed research and information that speaks volumes about the neutrality of palm oil as an oil or a fat that’s suitable for every segment of the population. We want greater outreach to consumers because it is them who drive the acceptance and sale of palm oil. Locally, between 75 to 80 percent of our daily fat consumption comes from palm oil.
Malaysians generally have no reservations about palm oil products, but often, they don’t know what they’re consuming because they don’t pay attention to labels. Purchases are brand-driven. So, we have to do more to inform consumers about palm oil, its health benefits and what it can or cannot do.
Our supporters like Nutella and Smart Balance are proud to be associated with palm oil. Smart Balance from the U.S., of which I’m one of the inventors, clearly states on its label: ‘Palm oil from the sunny shores of Malaysia”. So, Americans accept our palm oil for its health benefits and quality.
There’s no reason to hide (the fact) that a product uses palm oil.
On the contrary, we must advertise it.
Malaysian Star: Malaysian palm oil turns 100 this year. What’s the way forward?
Sundram: We must ensure that the industry remains viable and sustainable in the long term. Competition is intensifying. Land is limited so we must double the current 4.2 tonnes per hectare oil yield. To address the negative press, the MPOB must intensify its health and sustainability research. MPOC will then use this positive evidence to promote palm oil. Very exciting information, which we’ll be highlighting soon, is emerging.