'Palm oil is God's gift': Malaysia fights international criticism with new slogan

FILE PHOTO: A palm oil seed is seen at a plantation in Pulau Carey

By Mei Mei Chu

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia, the world's second largest palm oil producer and exporter, has said it will fight growing anti-palm oil sentiment around the world with a new slogan: "Palm oil is God's gift".

A Malaysian government official said on Tuesday the country would use the slogan, first introduced last week at a national level, internationally to fight widespread criticism about palm oil's negative impact on the environment.

"The government is committed to marketing the new slogan locally and internationally," Willie Mongin, the deputy minister of the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry, told parliament on Tuesday.

It replaces a previous "Love my palm oil" campaign introduced domestically last year to instill national pride for Malaysian palm oil amid widespread international criticism.

Malaysia, which accounts for 28% of the world's palm oil production and 33% of global exports, introduced the new slogan as part of efforts to counter growing anti-palm oil lobbyists in the European Union, a major palm importer.

The EU last year decided to phase out palm-based transport fuels from its renewable energy sector by 2030 and is expected to set new safety limits on food contaminant 3-MCPD esters found in refined vegetable oils, including palm.

The world's most widely consumed vegetable oil is used by major international companies to make everything from cereal to lipstick and detergent.

Environmental groups say its cultivation is responsible for excessive deforestation and the killing of endangered animals.

The Southeast Asian nation is also gearing up to follow a move by Indonesia, the world's biggest palm oil producer and exporter, to file a World Trade Organization suit against the EU over its ban on palm-based biofuel.

Palm oil is Malaysia's fourth major export product, with the US$60 billion (46.44 billion pounds) palm industry accounting for 4.4% of the country's total exports in the first half of this year.

(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word in headline)

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing Ana Nicolaci da Costa)