Synthetic palm oil lacks originality, vitamins, says MPOB

THE synthetic palm oil that is currently being produced by a United States-based start-up is lacking in terms of originality and vitamins present in natural palm oil, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) said.

MPOB director-general Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir (pic) said the synthetic version of palm oil does not contain Vitamins A and E, whereas the natural oil is rich in them.

“The raw material used to produce the synthetic version of palm oil may also not be from renewable sources. As such, the synthetic version may not be priced competitively.

“Will people use cosmetics and skincare products which come from waste oil and industrial by-products? Probably, they will end up using it for non-food like biodiesel,” he said in a statement today.

Ahmad Parveez said it is questionable whether synthetic palm oil is more environmentally friendly and sustainable because the production of synthetic materials require chemicals and microbes.

“How much energy and chemicals are used in the fermentation process? How can this synthetic product claim to be more sustainable than the original product?” he said.

It was reported by a couple of international media that the synthetic palm oil is currently being produced by the start-up using microbes to convert food waste and industrial byproducts into synthetic palm oil through a fermentation process.

The start-up claimed that the synthetic palm oil can replace the plant-derived version and its venture has received US$20 mil (US$1=RM4.32) series A investment round from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund which supports cutting-edge start-ups with a focus on environmental innovation and sustainability.

Ahmad Parveez calls on the company to undertake a detailed life-cycle assessment before claiming that its move to produce synthetic palm oil is due to allegations that palm oil is a major driver of deforestation and one of the leading causes of climate change.

The US start-up also claimed that 31 million hectares of forest were cleared globally for the cultivation of oil palm in a period of 24 years (1990-2014).

“What they failed to realise or simply ignore is deforestation for cultivation of other oil crops.

“One good example is based on the record of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which stated that for a period of eight years (2010-2018), an additional area of 30.5 million hectares were cultivated with soybean globally,” he said.

Ahmad Parveez said oil palm cultivated areas accounted for less than 1% of the global agricultural land of around five billion hectares compared to other oilseed crops (5%) and other crops (23%), while livestock is the largest at around 71%.

“Oil palm is the most productive crop with a yield five to nine times higher than other oilseed crops such as soybean, sunflower and rapeseed,” he said.

He said due to its high productivity of about four tonnes of oil per hectare a year, palm oil is competitive and affordable to most people of the world.

Ahmad Parveez said palm oil plays an irreplaceable role in ensuring global food security in the vegetable and fat oil industry.

“Hence, I wonder why there are so many attacks on the sustainability of palm oil that there is a need to produce synthetic products in place of natural products.

“The fact is, currently the company could produce half a tonne of synthetic palm oil annually and with the new investment it is expected to produce up to 50 tonnes,” he said.

He added that Malaysia’s palm industry is in the midst of achieving 100% Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification and as at March this year, 4.65 million hectares, or 78.8%, of the 5.9 million hectares of oil palm plantations in the country had attained the MSPO certification, while 394 of the 452 palm oil mills had done so. — March 31, 2020, Bernama

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