THE benefits of nutrition-packed palm oil to the body have undoubtedly been mentioned many times by industry players, a fact acknowledged by renowned scientists but often ignored by most Western environmentalists.
Palm oil, to the Western environmental non-govermental organisations (NGOs), is still associated with massive deforestation, Orang Utan extinction and other biodiversities harmful to health, and land right violations of the indigenous people.
This despite the fact that over recent years, after decades of negative perception and propaganda, palm oil is now widely used in baking and confectionery businesses worldwide.
It has been reported that for every 10 products on supermarket shelves, one or two contain palm oil. In the US, where the campaign against palm oil was quite vicious in the 1990s, half of the products in grocery stores contain palm oil.
Despite such acceptance, environmental NGOs in the US are still harping on the "palm oil is not good for you" propaganda, blaming agri-business companies there for importing the fat source that the NGOs claim has destroyed the ecosystem of the exporting countries and in the process, killing Sumatran Orang Utans and elephants.
The US 2012 Farm Bill for one, scheduled for tabling this year but may be postponed to next year at the request of the House Republican leaders, would, if passed, have an effect on the consumption of palm oil-based products.
The bill, according to supporters of the Environmental Working Group, would keep companies like Cargill (the largest North American importer of palm oil) in check as they blame the over-consumption of palm oil-based manufactured food products have made Americans less prone to consuming fruits, vegetables and grains.
(Cargill since last year has imported palm oil that has been grown sustainably and offers palm oil that is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to North American food manufacturers.)
The Farm Bill is described by the group as the ultimate determinant on the type of food that appears on the plates of Americans and is hoped to help limit the consumption of palm oil-based food.
In a recent op-ed in the LA Times, food policy experts Dan Imhoff and Michael Dimock wrote that if the Farm Bill meets some key recommendations, demand for refined foods containing palm oil would be drastically reduced.
However, a local industry player, who did not want to be named when met recently, said palm oil may not be openly sold in supermarkets, like in the Asean region. But its use in the food industry in North America is widespread and common not because of its price, but due to the less damaging effect it has to the body.
"Most people think the saturated fat content can damage our body, but this is not scientifically true as palm oil is a medium-chain triglyceride and free from trans-fatty acid. Those who oppose palm oil, to me, have a secret agenda," said the industry player whose company manufactures and exports a wide range of palm oil and palm oil-based products to some US food companies.
Hidden agenda or not, in Europe there is a discreet understanding that the anti-palm oil campaign may, on the surface, stand on the same environment-related platform when in fact it is merely to prevent competition against European Union's own edible oils like rapeseed and sunflower.
Over-the-top accusations such as the frivolous remark that 300 football-sized fields are defrosted hourly for palm oil plantations has been repeatedly used, despite statistics from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showing otherwise.
In FAO's "State of the Forests - 2011" report, it was observed that the trend of deforestation in the Southeast Asian region has reduced significantly between 2000 and 2010, compared to the 1990-2000 period.
In Australia, another battle is currently ongoing as Malaysia fights against Australia's proposed palm oil labeling bill, which has begun since 2009.
Expected to be resolved by year-end, the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling - Palm Oil) Bill 2010, if passed by the Australian Parliament, could easily upset the palm oil industry, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The proposed bill, which was mainly initiated on the basis that oil palm plantations have directly reduced the Orang Utan population, if comes into effect, would require food distributors to list palm oil as an ingredient on its contents label, instead of simply "vegetable oils".
Malaysia takes this seriously, viewing this as an indirect trade barrier, adversely affecting the palm oil industry.
With all these happenings in the Western world, Malaysia's Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has not been keeping silent.
A website was specifically created to counter-attack the unfounded smear campaign against the industry, with articles written by its chief executive officer Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron.
Among others, the MPOC chief, commenting on the Australian labeling bill, asked why if palm oil (with 50 per cent saturated fat) and coconut oil (with over 90 per cent saturated fat) are used, separate labeling is not needed.
"This will be a discriminatory use of the labeling law against the interest of palm oil and will violate the WTO provisions," Yusof wrote.