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Malaysia to spend $7.7M to defend palm oil from criticism

The Malaysian government will spend 24 million ringgit ($7.7 million) in 2011 and 2012 to counter criticism over the social and environmental impact of palm oil, reports ANTARA.

Deputy Minister for Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin said Malaysia would “promote the advantages” of palm oil relative to other alternatives. He added that conversion of rainforests for oil palm plantations “is not damaging the environment,” citing Malaysia’s current forest cover as proof.

“In Malaysia, the total land area covered by forests is 56.4 per cent,” he said.

Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia. It has roughly 4.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations.

Malaysia aims to increase production over the next decade by improving productivity across existing plantations and targeting roughly a million hectares of indigenous forest land in Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo. Environmentalists and human rights activists complain that planned expansion will run roughshod over traditional communities while destroying large areas of rainforest.

Past and current efforts by Malaysia to defend palm oil against criticism have met mixed reviews. In 2009 Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a group that regulates advertisements, banned a “misleading” ad by the palm oil industry. Bloggers and journalists have also complained about a deluge of comment spam whenever they post an article critical of palm oil.

The oil palm is the world’s most productive commercial oil seed. Palm oil is used widely as a cooking oil and in processed food products, cosmetics, and cleaning agents. Europe is considering importing palm oil biodiesel to help meet renewable fuels targets, although recent scientific research indicates that greenhouse gas emissions savings from switching to palm oil from conventional fossil fuels are non-existent when forests and peatlands are cleared to produce palm oil.

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