Most of us are embracing food ingredients grown using sustainable agricultural practices. As attention turns to using only sustainable palm oil, we’re also learning the country of origin is crucial. The Malaysian palm oil industry, for example, believes that sustainability is essential on a global scale. It is working to set standards for other countries to follow, by adhering to the 3Ps of sustainability: People, Planet and Profits.
Why palm oil is such a hot topic
Palm oil is a very versatile oil, used in everything from prepared foods to beauty products. While most of us grew up cooking with canola, soy or corn oil, much of the rest of the world grew up cooking with palm oil. It has fed billions for generations.
Three reasons why demand for palm oil is escalating:
- It is an ideal, natural substitute for trans fats in food.
- It requires only about one-tenth the amount of land as other oil crops including soy and canola.
- It’s non-GMO.
This increased demand has caused some of us to look closer at which countries practice responsible palm oil cultivation and manufacturing. If you’ve heard concerns about deforestation related to palm oil, and that makes you worried about buying products containing palm oil, you can relax.
Malaysian palm oil industry stands above the rest
The socially responsible Malaysian palm oil industry is efficiently feeding billions, protecting native wildlife and bringing prosperity to the Malaysian people.
- Looking out for its people: Palm oil has helped bring Malaysian family farmers out of poverty. The industry has created organizations to support smallholders, who cultivate nearly 40 percent of Malaysia’s palm-planted lands. Today, the average oil palm farmer has a family income of RM 1,356 (376 U.S. dollars), far above the Malaysian poverty line of RM 529 (147 U.S. dollars). The industry also builds roads and schools for local communities.
- Taking care of the planet: Malaysia’s palm oil industry is backed by more than 90 years of responsible plantation practices. The country has one of the most highly regulated agricultural sectors in the world. Oil palm is only cultivated on legal agricultural land, and the industry has a strict zero burning policy. The industry has established the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund to focus on wildlife habitat preservation and land conservation. There’s even a Jungle Patrol unit to deter poaching. In addition, Malaysia has set aside at least 50 percent of her total land as forest cover. This land, coupled with the lush oil palm plantations, makes Malaysia an especially green country.
- Re-investing its profit: Palm oil is a major contributor to the economy. The Malaysian palm oil industry produces 39 percent of the world’s palm oil, and has contributed 126 billion to Malaysia’s GDP through exports from 2008 to 2013.
The U.S. gets more than one million tons of sustainable palm oil from Malaysia
While the source country isn’t always stated on product labels, you can feel good knowing that sustainably focused Malaysia supplies much of the United State’s sustainable palm oil. Malaysian Palm Oil Board Regional Manager Johari Minal notes that consumption of sustainable palm oil is growing worldwide, and that the United States could become the first nation to consume 100 percent sustainable palm oil.
As consumers and food manufacturers demand responsibly produced ingredients, the Malaysian model for sustainability and zero waste may one day become the world’s gold standard.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.