The Malaysian palm oil industry is taking great strides to “set the record straight” about palm oil sustainability by introducing a mandatory program so that all producers will be certified over the next three years. In a bid to “change the conversation” about palm oil, the Malaysian industry wants much more focus on the sustainability aspects of the leading ingredient, rather than the controversies that have surrounded palm oil in recent years.
As the country’s number one export, Malaysian palm oil makes up more than 50 percent of the palm oil imported to the US, used in many formulations for baked, snack and grocery products.
Mandatory Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification will enable US food manufacturers to shift the conversation to palm oil’s numerous benefits such as supply chain transparency, clean-labeling and a wealth of health benefits.
Malaysia is the first country to certify the sustainability of its palm oil and under this mandatory program, all Malaysian palm oil producers must be certified by January 1, 2020.
With Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification, harvesting and shipping will be traceable giving importers and consumers the assurance that they are getting pure, authentic, non-GMO palm oil.
“MSPO certification is yet another strong tactic that Malaysia is using to lead the world by example,” said Malaysian Palm Oil Council CEO Dr. Kalyana Sundram. “We are intentionally paving the way for other countries who rely on the authenticity of their products, such as Italy with its olive oil, to ensure the trade and consumers that their products are pure and responsibly produced.”
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Dr. Sundram said: “To date, close to 19 million tons of palm oil is being produced in Malaysia each year. Valued at nearly US$17 billion in 2017, the relatively inexpensive, golden-amber-colored palm oil is traded in 160 countries, and provides jobs and livelihood to more than half a million people in the Malaysia.”
“More than 39 percent of oil palm cultivation in Malaysia are owned by small landholders, and the industry has contributed to one of the largest poverty alleviation projects in the world,” notes Dr. Sundram.
“The bigger plantation companies are already fully geared to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) through an internationally supervised sustainability criteria that includes those of the German International Sustainability Carbon Certification (ISCC) system, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and more recently, through Malaysia’s own national certification standard, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) scheme.”
“The challenge is to get the small farmers to prescribe to the MSPO certified production standards,” he explains. “This is currently being facilitated through a government grant that absorbs the cost of initial certification of small farms so that the small farmer is not further burdened. This approach has the buy-in from the small farmers and we anticipated that by the end of 2019, the entire Malaysian palm oil production would be certified sustainable.”
“Currently there are not yet concrete marketing plans in terms of consumer packs reaching the global consumers. Already production of certified sustainable palm oil outstrips uptake, whereas larger consumer products manufacturers are mostly agreeing to commit to sustainable palm oil only around 2020. Meanwhile, we are working to further enhance the image of Malaysian palm oil, which is already well appreciated for its quality standards through the benchmarking with MSPO. Our ultimate goal is that consumer packs will eventually carry the MSPO logo on each package and that this delivers an assurance to the consumer that it is Malaysian quality marked, assured, and sustainability produced,” says Dr. Sundram.
A recognized leader in responsible best practices
Even prior to announcing the MSPO certification program, the Malaysian palm oil industry was a highly regulated industry which has long adhered to more than 15 laws and regulations protecting its environment, wildlife, ecology and its people.
Various approaches and technologies aimed to reduce the impact of the industry on the environment have been converted to successful practices in oil palm plantation, palm oil milling and refineries.
MSPO certification covers all aspects of palm oil production, from the field to the final product. In addition to cultivation and processing techniques, MSPO certification is about protecting the forests and wildlife and providing a living wage for everyone employed by this industry including 400,000 family farmers (smallholders). It includes general principles as well as stringent criteria for all parties involved in palm oil production.
Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong confirms unanimous support for MSPO among Malaysia’s top palm oil producers.
“These proactive measures will increase Malaysia’s share in the global palm oil market, and lead to recognition of our local palm oil as a premium world-class oil,” he said.
The MSPO standards cover management commitment and responsibility, transparency, compliance with legal requirements, social responsibility, safety and employment conditions, environment, natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services, best practices and development of new plantings.
US$13 million for smallholders
The multi-step procedure for MSPO certification includes both audits and peer reviews. These assure that best practices are consistently being followed. MSPO is administered through the independent Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council.
The equivalent of US$13 million dollars has been allocated to help Malaysia’s smallholders, who have been using environmentally responsible practices for years, to afford the sustainable certification.
Once they attain MSPO certification, these smallholders will join other MSPO-certified producers in filling America’s demand for responsibly produced palm oil.
MSPO certification compliance deadlines:
– December 31, 2018: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-certified plantations
– June 30, 2019: Non-RSPO-certified plantations
– December 31, 2019: Smallholders/independent farmers
– January 1, 2020: MSPO certification will become mandatory for all Malaysian palm oil producers.
Malaysian palm oil is nutritionally rich; a natural source of carotenoids and vitamin E as well as balanced fatty acids and other important fat-soluble micronutrients.
There has been research specifically on the nutrients derived from Malaysian palm oil which points to its benefits in supporting cardiovascular, brain and liver health.
“We must make ourselves visible and gain the confidence of the consumer,” adds Dr. Sundram. “Our palm oil reaches more than 150 countries. It is increasingly being used in many food formulations worldwide. Before hitting the shelves, the oil must be refined, processed, packed and branded.”
“We want to reach out to every entity in the supply chain and of course, the end consumer, to convince them that this is sustainably produced, wholesome and nutritious edible oil.”