January 26, 2009
"Why have efforts by conservationists failed to halt the expansion of oil palm plantations at the expense of tropical forests? We contend that part of the reason could be the aggressive public relations campaigns undertaken by the oil palm industry to promote public acceptance of palm oil and to dismiss the concerns of conservation biologists and environmentalists," Koh and Wilcove write. "It is not unlike the campaign that some energy companies waged against efforts to curb global climate change."
Under fire from environmental groups, which are now pushing for consumer boycotts of products containing palm oil in some markets, industry groups have launched marketing campaigns to depict palm oil as a environmentally benign — or even ecologically beneficial — product. Despite substantial scientific evidence to the contrary, the industry claims that expansion has not occurred in natural forest areas and that oil palm plantations sequester more carbon than rainforests.
Ultimately, pressure on the industry to improve environmental performance will hinge on whether environmentalists can overcome this propaganda to convince consumers and governments on the merits of eco-friendly palm oil. Until then, biodiversity will continue to be at risk from the palm oil industry, conclude Koh and Wilcove.
"To effectively mitigate the threats of oil palm to biodiversity, conservationists need to persuade consumers to continue to demand both greater transparency in land-use decisions by governments and greater environmental accountability from oil palm producers."
"A prohibition on the conversion of primary or secondary forests to oil palm is urgently needed to safeguard tropical biodiversity. Until that happens, oil palm might well be the single most immediate threat to the greatest number of species."
Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove. Oil palm: disinformation enables deforestation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.24 No.2
Biodiversity of rainforests should not be compared with oil palm plantations says palm oil council chief
(11/11/2008) Scientists should compare the biodiversity oil palm plantations to other industrial monocultures, not the rainforests they replace, said Dr. Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), in a post on his blog. Basiron's comments are noteworthy because until now he has maintained that oil palm plantations are "planted forests" rather than an industrial crop.
First RSPO-certified ("eco-friendly") palm oil shipment to arrive in Europe
(11/10/2008) The first shipment of palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is expected to arrive in Europe Tuesday, but an environmental group is already criticizing the initiative's credentials.
EU's sustainable biofuels push angers Malaysia, Brazil
(11/07/2008) Eight developing countries threatened to file a World Trade Organization complaint against the E.U. for its proposed legislation to require imported biofuels to meet environmental standards, reports Reuters.
Palm oil companies propose satellite monitoring of their plantations to ensure sustainability
(11/05/2008) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is considering a proposal to use satellite imagery to enforce criteria that high value conservation areas are not converted to oil palm plantations, reports Ian Wood of the Telegraph. The move would boost RSPO's credibility at a time when the industry-lead sustainability initiative is under fire from environmentalists who say its performance to date suggests it is merely an exercise in greenwashing.
Oil palm expansion in Indonesian Borneo increased 400-fold from 1991-2007
(10/30/2008) Annual forest conversion to palm oil plantations increased 400-fold from 1,163 hectares in 1991 to 461,992 hectares in 2007 in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, reports a new report published by Forest Watch Indonesia, a local NGO.
Palm oil industry relies on greenwashing to mislead consumers, alleges report
(10/08/2008) The Malaysian palm oil industry is relying on marketing tactics that mislead the public about its environmental performance rather than taking effective steps to become "greener" alleges a new report from the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE).
Rainforest conversion to oil palm causes 83% of wildlife to disappear
(09/15/2008) Conversion of primary rainforest to an oil palm plantation results in a loss of more than 80 percent of species, reports a new comprehensive review of the impacts of growing palm oil production. The research is published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Palm oil industry moves into the Amazon rainforest
(07/09/2008) Malaysia's Land Development Authority FELDA has announced plans to immediately establish 100,000 hectares (250,000) of oil palm plantations in the Brazilian Amazon. The agency will partner with Braspalma, a local company, to form Felda Global Ventures Brazil Sdn Bhd. FELDA will have a 70 percent stake in the venture. The announcement had been expected. Last month Najib said Malaysia would seek to expand its booming palm oil industry overseas. The country is facing land constraints at home.
Half of oil palm expansion in Malaysia, Indonesia occurs at expense of forests
(05/20/2008) More than half of the oil palm expansion between 1990 and 2005 Malaysia and Indonesia occurred at expense of forests, reports a new analysis published in the journal conservation Letters. Analyzing data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove of Princeton University found that 55-59 percent of oil palm expansion in Malaysia and at least 56 percent of that in Indonesia occurred at the expense of forests. Given that oil palm plantations are biologically impoverished relative to primary and secondary forests, the researchers recommend restricting future expansion to pre-existing cropland and degraded habitats.
Sustainability conference reveals a rift in the Malaysian Palm Oil Council
(05/01/2008) Last month's sustainability conference sponsored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) revealed a rift between some planters and the industry marketing organization.