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Friday, November 1, 2019

traders shun Palm oil from Malaysia for its support to Pakistan

To the pig-tailed macaque, there's nothing better than sweet fruit plucked from a sprawling palm oil plantation. Except maybe fresh rat ! (that smells a rat !!). That's good eating too, apparently.  Researchers have found that far from being a pest themselves, monkeys could be welcome guests at Malaysian palm oil plantations, more than making up for the few fruit they steal by keeping down the numbers of a far more serious threat in the form of rodents. For the past six years, scientists from Malaysia and Germany have kept a close eye on two populations of southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) in Malaysia's Segari Melintang Forest Reserve. Naturally, the monkeys spent a good deal of time chilling in the palm oil plantation that surrounded the reserve, which made up roughly a third of their home range. Farmers might not be happy with the intrusion, but for the macaque, the palms were the equivalent of a shopping mall - an ugly monoculture intruding on beautiful surrounds, but with cheap food. The macaques were spending several hours a day in the plantations, a period that made up nearly half of their overall feeding time. It didn't come as much of a surprise that they were busy stuffing their faces with fruit from the palm trees. What was a bit of a shock was the main course – a whole bunch of rats.

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, and to a lesser extent from the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa.  Palm oil is naturally reddish in color because of a high beta-carotene content. Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature.  Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil.

In India, we have a different one – the ‘palmolein’.  The fad for this oil was so high a couple of decades ago, that the Govt. was importing them in bulk tankers and redistributing to households, who were using this oil moving away from dalda vanaspathi, groundnut oil, gingelly oil, bran oil and other cooking oils. Now refined oils like sunflower, olive, safflower, avocado have all taken over.  There were concerns that at any point time, the palmolein available in the market  could far exceed the quantity of oil that had been imported, hinting that there was heavy adulteration in this brand. 

Palm oil and palm olein originate from the same plant, a palm species known as E. Guineesis. Palmolein has different characteristics than the palm oil, most notably that it remains completely liquid at room temperature. It is highly heat resistant, similar to palm oil, and it also resists the formation of breakdown products during frying and increases the shelf life of many products. The Palm Olein Import Scam refers to the alleged irregularities in the import of palmolein by the K. Karunakaran-led United Democratic Front government of the state of Kerala,  through the Power and Energy Limited Company. The Kerala government selected Power and Energy Limited arbitrarily without inviting tenders, allegedly at an inflated price and at an excessive service charge and in violation of central and state government procedure and this scam was first brought to light officially by a report of the Accountant-General of Kerala in July 1993, a Comptroller and Auditor General report in February 1994, and subsequently by a report of the Public Undertakings Committee of the Kerala Legislative Assembly in March 1996.

Although palm oil and palm olein are produced from the same plant and share many similar properties, the main difference between them is their chemical state at room temperature. Lliquid palmolein is considered the "gold standard" and is the most widely used oil for frying in the world.  Now comes the news that Palm oil is to be removed from all own-label food sold by Iceland amid concerns over its impact on wildlife. The oil is used in a huge number of products on supermarket shelves ranging from bread to soap.

Now read this interesting news from TOI and other media.. .. and the response of TN Congress !!  .. .. the news title screamed – ‘Traders shun palm oil from Malaysia, Govt denies curbs’

Indian traders have stopped importing palm oil from Malaysia in retaliation to the latter joining Pakistan’s criticism of the Modi government’s decisions on Jammu & Kashmir. “In your own interest as well as a mark of solidarity with our nation, we should avoid purchases from Malaysia for the time being. We trust you would heed our advice,” a statement issued by the Solvent Extractors’ Association (SEA), a body of vegetable oil industry and trade, said, adding that traders were angry with Malaysia.  Traders also said they were not entering into new contracts. “There is uncertainty among traders and as a precaution, we have told them not to go for new contracts till there is clarity,” B V Mehta, executive director of SEA, said, adding that the decision to issue the advisory was also in national interest. “J&K is our internal matter,” he said.

Significantly, while the association said the initiative was prompted by traders’ sensitivity to the stand taken by the government which has made plain its annoyance with Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad’s criticism of the decision to end special status for J&K, commerce minister Piyush Goyal distanced the Modi dispensation from the move.  Importers of Malaysian palm oil, however, were forthright in stating that they were aware of the Government’s well-known annoyance with Malaysia. “Our government has not taken kindly to unprovoked pronouncements by the Malaysian PM and is contemplating some retaliatory action. It would be in the fitness of things, as a responsible Indian vegetable oil industry, if we avoid purchasing palm oil from Malaysia till such time clarity on the way forward emerges from the government,” SEA said.

Malaysian minister Teresa Kok’s statement asking SEA not to take “unilateral action” of banning Malaysian palm oil could be the first blink in the spat between the two countries. A senior industry expert hinted that a Malaysian delegation is expected to land in Delhi “sooner than expected”. On Tuesday, talking to reporters at the Palm Oil Supply and Demand Outlook Conference, Kok had said, “I urge the Solvent Extractors’ Association not to take unilateral action and allow our respective governments to resolve the current situation.” India imports about 15 million tonnes of palm oil annually, out of which 6.5 million tonnes come from Indonesia and about 3 million tonnes from Malaysia, according to Mehta. The move by Indian importers is likely to significantly hurt Malaysia, traders said.
Mehta said the commerce minister’s comments in Stockholm would help bring some clarity as the government was not contemplating any official curbs on imports from Malaysia. He said traders were still angry about Malaysia’s interference in India’s internal matters. “Kashmir is an internal issue,” he said.

Amidst the call by an Indian trade association for importers to shun palm oil from Malaysia, a political body in South India has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi government not to reduce palm oil imports from Malaysia. The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) said any reduction of palm oil imports from Malaysia by India will hit hard the migrant workers from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu currently employed in Malaysia. TNCC president K.S. Alagiri said that at least 500,000 people from Tamil Nadu are working in the Information Technology sector and restaurants in Malaysia.  .. .. Congress party / TNCC not thinking of the national interest perhaps is nothing new ! given the dynamics of politics.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th Oct 2019.

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