Expert slams EU for anti-palm oil rule without consulting producers

(From left) Ruslan Abdullah, MPOC director for science and environment, Chew Jit Seng, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council, German MP Christoph Hoffman, Bakhtiar Talhah, COO of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and Laurence Todd, director of IDEAS.

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) expert has slammed the European Commission for a recent regulation labelling palm oil as unsustainable.

Ruslan Abdullah, MPOC’s director for science and environment, said the initiative was biased against the palm oil industry and was done without enough consultation with producing countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

He said the EC’s Delegated Act (the Delegated Regulation Supplementing Directive 2018/2001 of the European Union Renewable Energy Directive II) was unfair to Malaysia as the country is already taking initiatives for sustainable palm oil production.

In May this year, the European Commission adopted the Delegated Act to limit the use of biofuels with high indirect land-use change (iLUC) risks.

(High iLUC biofuel refers to biofuel that will indirectly cause high carbon emissions through the expansion of croplands needed for its production.)

Palm oil was the only oil-producing crop found to meet this risk threshold. Therefore, the regulation inadvertently branded all palm oil as unsustainable.

It is expected that the import and use of palm oil for fuel production will be phased out in the European Union (EU).

Ruslan argued the bad practices in palm oil industries found in other parts of the world, such as Indonesia, South America or Africa, were not happening in Malaysia, adding that practices such as open burning were illegal. He also said reforestation and wildlife conservation efforts were also being implemented.

He recommended that, instead of blanket labelling, there needed to be some criteria in the Delegated Act for sustainable palm oil production.

“All we need is a fair playing ground for all vegetable oils, to take into consideration where it came from,” he said during a forum called “Navigating the Palm Oil Debate”, organised by IDEAS.

He added that despite some productive discussions held just before the announcement of the Delegated Act, the EU was not given enough time to digest the complaints or suggestions by the palm oil producing countries.

He also said the EU was adamant in its anti-palm oil stance. He said previous efforts to counter their arguments — including submitting a 48-page report — undertaken by the Indonesian and Malaysian governments, had failed.

Ruslan said moving forward, the regulation will be more acceptable if there was sincere collaboration and consultations with producing countries.

“There needs to be collaboration between the EU and palm-oil producers instead of both being at loggerheads.

“The bottomline is, there must be proper consultation between both parties, to listen to every side of the story. Unfortunately, this is not the case in terms of palm oil.”

Meanwhile, he also worries that major importing countries like China and India may eventually take a similar position due to possible pressure by the EU in the future.

Ruslan said the regulation would only affect 800,000 tonnes of palm oil in Malaysia, as only 40% of its total palm oil is exported to Europe.

“However, more often than not, the EU has been considered as a trendsetter in world policy.”

Meanwhile, a German MP representing the Liberal Party, Christoph Hoffman, agreed that it was possible the Delegated Act had not considered other biofuels.

“I think it’s not really fair not to take into consideration other biofuels. They should look carefully at the development of soybean; they have been cutting down rainforests for soybean oil too.

“Maybe they were right to say the negotiations were not long enough, or not careful enough,” he said.

However, he maintained that the EU was not targeting palm oil or Malaysia in particular. He said they were instead concerned with the conversion of rainforests for croplands used in the production of biofuels.

“I think it is a general line that we think that biofuels will not be the future for transportation and combustion.”

He argued that cropland expansion for biofuel would decrease arable land for agriculture.

“It is not a good idea because we have competition to nutrition. We have to decide one day whether we want to produce gasoline or wheat.

“It is not a good idea because the population is growing in this world and we need much more arable land for agriculture. We need agricultural production to rise by about 50%.

“In the long term, it’s not a good idea to burn biofuels in cars rather than have the crops for people to eat,” he told reporters after the forum.