REPORT on the Launching of E-Platform on Palm Oil Covering Aspects on Environmental and Socioeconomic Sustainability, Health and Versatility
Malaysian Oil Scientists and Technologists Association (MOSTA) launched their campaign, “Palm oil – Nature’s Gift to Humankind” under the leadership of Tan Sri Dr Augustine Ong at the Royal Lake Club on 8 Dec 2021. The launch was graced by YB Datuk Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities.
It is a timely campaign to rebrand the oil palm industry as sustainable and competitive given the fierce opposition from various quarters.
“We are not competing with other oils. All oils have their own benefits and serve different purposes. They can co-exist and even can be combined to make quality products,” said the minister. She also urged the EU to look at the science supporting palm oil’s health and environmental benefits.
“It should not be a trade war. We should work together,” urged the minister in her energetic speech. Zuraida will be leaving to Brussels early next year to talk to EU MPs. She urged Ong, and other scientists to join hands with her in her “war room” to provide inputs in tackling the discrimination by EU or other countries.
Ong who is fondly known as the Father of Malaysian Palm Oil presented an intriguing research outcome that shows palm and olive oils both induced the same ratio of total cholesterol over HDL indicating similar heart health effects.
“This first study was done by the Institute for Medical Research Malaysia. We thought since it was done in Malaysia, there might be some bias, but to our delight, studies conducted in Australia, Italy, China and a number of other countries produced the same results,” said Ong.
“This is contrary to popular belief that palm oil is bad for our heart,” Ong explained.
“Oil Palm is the highest oil-yielding crop which supports 650,000 smallholders and over two million people who rely on the Malaysian oil palm industry as their source of work”, told the minister to Bernama.
The campaign involved a few prominent scientists working on various aspects of palm oil presenting interesting scientific facts about palm oil that are widely misconstrued by the public. Videos on these are available on e-MOSTA, a platform created to reach out to the public to clear many misconceptions about the golden oil. It offers a transparent platform that discusses palm oil attributes based on science.
Dr Sivaruby Kanagaratnam pointed out that palm oil makes the best margarine since it is semi-solid naturally given its balanced content of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. “Due to its semi-solid nature, we don’t have to hydrogenate palm oil unlike the temperate, soft oils. Hydrogenation produces trans-fatty acid which is bad for health and many countries are banning it,” she explained.
Dr Ravigadevi Sambanthamurthi found polyphenols from oil palm fruit to be more potent than resveratrol from grapes. “We were all so zealous about the compounds in the oil, neglecting the water-soluble compounds in the colourful fruits. When I decided to check the aqueous portion, I was so surprised to see a high level of polyphenols and they have such amazing anti-inflammatory properties,” beamed the scientist.
In the field of nutraceuticals, the demand for plant-based extracts is escalating, as it resonates with the shifting preference of people towards natural-derived products.
Another scientist from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, Dr Fu Ju Yen spoke about the little known Vitamin E, tocotrienol. “Most vitamin E supplements are made of tocopherol because there are limited natural sources for tocotrienol, which is a superior vitamin E. Palm oil is one of the highest tocotrienol source. Tocotrienol gives us many benefits that help us to lead a healthy modern lifestyle,” said the pharmacist.
Dr Lee Yee Ying from Monash University explained why palm oil is perfect for deep frying with its high thermal and oxidative stability under high temperatures and high smoke point. Fewer harmful compounds are being formed than from temperate oils, the physical properties of the oil can be preserved for a longer period; further lower fat absorption from the fried foods is due to predominant saturated palmitic and stearic acids at the 1, 3-positions of palm oil glycerides
Former Director General of MPOB, Datuk Dr Choo Yuen May passionately explained her red palm oil and vitamin A research and its benefits which were established among vitamin A deficient students in China through clinical trials. Choo was also the pioneer who worked on biofuel and Malaysia embarked on the biodiesel initiative as early as 1981.
“Biofuel is available in all our petrol kiosks where diesel is mixed with palm oil methyl ester. We did extensive testing on engine performance using buses and taxis and it proved to be a very environmentally sustainable fuel,” said Choo.
Palm oil not only mesmerised local scientists but also international experts. One of them is Prof Denis Murphy from the University of South Wales, UK. “I switched to oil palm research after seeing how superior its oil is compared to temperate oils. It is so sustainable and is the perfect choice to meet the growing demand for edible oil without harming the planet,” said the plant biotechnologist.
The scientific communicator to the awareness project, Datin Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan, who is a renowned science communicator said palm oil has excellent talking points that are not leveraged fully to dispel the myths among the public. “The change of attitude among the public will happen if we speak their language and make our arguments relevant to their concerns. An excellent communication strategy is what we need,” said Mahaletchumy before wrapping up the launching event.
Reported by Datin Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan
Global Coordinator, ISAAA
Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC)