MEOA condemns WHO’s ‘biased’ assessment of palm oil

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 16, 2019.
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KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Estate Owners' Association (MEOA) has called for a withdrawal of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent study on palm oil, saying that it is a biased report implicitly associated with political or commercial agenda.

In a statement, MEOA pointed out that the study, entitled “The palm oil industry and non-communicable diseases”, picked on palm oil alone without comparing it with all 17 other major oils and fats when highlighting the commodity’s impact on planetary health.

“The concerted, multifaceted and unremitting attack on the palm oil industry is unprecedented and part of a larger agenda to cripple it. Countless allegations have been made on the sustainability, health properties, safety and security of the palm oil industry and all of it has been dispelled with research, data, facts and figures.

“WHO, being a reputable organisation and part of the United Nations should in fact publish a summary of the health benefits and risks of the 17 major vegetable oils and animal fats, in an unbiased manner.

“Since WHO highlighted palm oil's impact on planetary health (deforestation, loss of biodiversity and pollution), it should also publish an unbiased comparison of how all the 17 major oils and fats fare in these regards.

“This will be of great assistance to nutritionists and environmentalists globally and also allow consumers to make an informed opinion. A study picking on palm oil alone does not do justice to WHO’s reputation and compromises its integrity,” it said.

MEOA also refuted the assertion by authors of the WHO report that existing research is more propaganda than empirical just because four out of the nine palm oil studies identified have been authored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.

The association said it is “only natural that most research emanates from these two countries” since palm oil research remains niche since 80% of the world’s palm oil is produced by Malaysia and Indonesia.

Last week, WHO’s published study likened the palm oil industry to the alcohol and tobacco industries, claiming that similar tactics were used to influence research into the health effects of its products.

The study pointed out health hazards caused by the usage and production of palm oil — including premature deaths, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory illness — and called for more research and tighter regulation of the industry.

“MEOA strongly condemns the recent report by the WHO over its claim that the palm oil industry is deploying tactics similar to those of the alcohol and tobacco industries to influence research into the health effects of its products and it must withdraw this biased report.

“Further, WHO must disassociate itself from any political or commercial agenda which seems implicit in its report,” it said.