Local industry nothing like the Wild West, says palm oil board

PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has defended participants in the local industry against critics who, he says, seem to liken them to the ranchers of the Wild West.

In an interview with FMT, MPOB director-general Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir spoke of the Malaysian palm oil industry as being highly regulated, saying it would be an injustice to think of the planters and millers as frontier cowboys following no rules imposed by legitimate authorities.

He noted that the government had, over the decades, been adding regulation after regulation to improve the accountability and sustainability of the industry.

Even as early as in the 1970s, he said, one could not build a mill without licences from the Palm Oil Registration and Licensing Authority, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, and the Department of Environment.

The permits from the three organisations were for the purchase and processing of palm fruits, the operation of machines and the treatment of effluents.

“Even then, the millers would need to treat the effluents to reduce their biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) before discharging them,” Parveez said.

Millers currently need to comply with 69 laws and regulations administered by various government agencies.

These rules cover environmental protection, human rights, water quality, the use of pesticides and several other matters.

To show how strict the regulations are, Parveez gave the example of a rule pertaining to effluents.

“Palm oil effluent has an average BOD of 70,000 parts per million (ppm),” he said. “This needs to be reduced to between 50 and 100 ppm before the effluent can be discharged. In some sensitive areas, the BOD needs to be reduced to as low as 20 ppm or even lower.

“So those who think this is the Wild West are wrong. This is a very highly regulated industry and the regulations are strengthened by the mandatory Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification.”

He said this was because plantations and mills could not get MSPO certification without complying with all the laws they are governed by.

Parveez also said the high demand for sustainable-certified oils made it worthwhile for planters and millers to earn MSPO certification.

He noted that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising committee has acknowledged MSPO-certified palm oil as sustainable.

One Malaysian company, he said, had already benefited from this, earning a premium on its shipment of MSPO-certified palm oil to Japan.