June 18, 2009
In an April blog post, Basiron cited an unspecified study that found "orang utans living near oil palm plantations were observed to regularly visit the plantations to feed on loose oil palm fruitlets and benefit from an all year round availability of a healthy food source which is naturally rich in vitamin A and E, giving the orang utans a healthy shining coat."
But David Dellatore, a researcher with the Sumatran Orangutan Society, questioned Basiron's claims, saying that he was unaware that any such study had been published in a legitimate scientific journal: "It's of no value to cite a mystery study."
Young orangutan at Sepilok rehabilitation center in Sabah, Malaysia. Some plantation companies have become supporters of orangutan care facilities, which house orangutans displaced by oil palm expansion.
Dellatore told mongabay.com during a visit to Medan, Sumatra that it is unlikely that orangutans would count palm fruits from plantations as an important food source.
"A colleague has found instances in a population isolated from the main forest where orangutans have occasionally eaten palm fruits as a fall back/emergency food. However in no way is palm oil a preferred (or common) orangutan food and given the choice between that and fruit or other naturally occurring foods they would not be eating oil palm. We don't know of any other population of orangutans that eats from oil palm, apart from this population that is isolated from returning to the forest."
Further, Dellatore said that plantation workers would likely kill orangutans they see in plantation areas.
Oil palm and rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia
He was also skeptical of the claimed health benefits of palm oil for orangutans.
"Per the shiny coat business - if there's been a study on the effect of oil palm consumption on orangutan nutrition and coat condition, nobody I know has ever heard of it or read it!"
It is not the first time Basiron has made controversial claims. At a sustainability conference sponsored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council in April 2008, Basiron said that the Malaysian palm oil industry has "always" been sustainable and hasn't been responsible for any deforestation, despite clear evidence that some oil palm expansion has occurred at the expense of natural forests. He also made dubious remarks on biodiversity.
As the world's oil palm is the highest-yielding commercial oilseed, palm oil production offers more vegetable oil per unit of area than other widely-grown crops including soy, canola, or rapeseed. Thus oil palm expansion on abandoned agricultural lands could offer producers a more effective way to sustainably meet growing demand for vegetable oils than with other oilseeds. Environmentalists are most concerned by palm oil production that comes at the cost of carbon-dense and biologically-rich rainforests and peatlands.
"With deforestation, all the animals move to the forest," he claimed. "They don't die."
Despite his remarks, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council is a supporter of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-led initiative to clean up the palm oil industry. Although RSPO has been subject to criticism by some activist groups, many conservationist organizations—including some who sit on the RSPO's managing board—believe the initiative can eventually improve the environmental performance of palm oil producers by offering them financial incentives for mitigating deforestation, social conflict, and pollution.
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.
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).