A row over palm oil is brewing between one of the biggest producers and biggest consumers of the product.
The Malaysian palm oil industry has accused the EU of telling “major inaccuracies and untruths”, after it expressed concern last week over illegal logging across South East Asia.
An EU report, intended to strengthen its relationship with South East Asian (ASEAN) countries, highlighted the problem of illegal logging and burning and the “resulting smog that has a significant negative impact across ASEAN borders”.
But the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has accused that the EU of making “politically motivated” attacks on the industry.
The EU is one of the biggest consumers of palm oil, consuming around 15% of global production every year. Malaysia is the second largest producer of the fuel after Indonesia, responsible for 19 million of the total 53.7 million tonnes that was extracted last year.
Palm oil is widely used as a biofuel, but also in products such as chocolate, biscuits and shampoo.
MPOC, the lobby for the Malaysian palm oil industry, aims to “promote the market expansion of Malaysian palm oil and its products by enhancing the image of palm oil”, adding that it aims to do this by raising awareness of its “environmental sustainability”.
But it is a lack of sustainability in the industry that has aroused the EU’s concern. While it is adopted as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, the production of palm oil often comes at the expense of rainforests, which contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when they are cleared to make way for plantations.
Even so-called “sustainable” plantations cause problems, as it leads to the expansion of the industry into other, non-certified areas.
MPOC-run website The Oil Palm repeatedly refers to the “callous attempts” of the western world to “stymie Malaysian development by limiting Malaysian extractive and agricultural industries”.
On the EU’s most recent attempt to tighten agricultural practice, they write in a blog post: “The report is supposed to be a tool for encouraging closer cooperation between Malaysia and the EU.
“In reality, this is a political tool for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to make poltiically-motivated [sic] statements about their feelings towards ASEAN countries, including Malaysia…
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