An Interview with Tan Sri Datuk Dr.Augustine Ong, The President of MOSTA

1. One of MOSTA’s objectives is to promote the sustainable conservation of the environment. Could you elaborate in details regarding this?

We support sustainable development. Some of the things to show that MOSTA supports sustainability is that we are involved in increasing the productivity of the oil palm. For example, palm oil productivity is about 5 to 10 times more than the other oils. Currently, the palm oil yield is 4 tonnes of oil per hectare per year and the soybean is 0.4 tonnes. However, in the earlier days, research shows that we can go up to 19 tonnes per hectare per year. It is a prediction by Dr. Corley. Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) is doing a lot of genome research that predicts that by midterm we can produce about 14.5 tonnes oil per hectare per year which is much more than any other oil.

At the current productivity of palm oil, the amount of land given to oil palm is the second lowest so it is much better for the environment. To promote the conservation of the environment, we are also interested to produce zero-waste technology. Palm oil mill has effluent that produces methane and we have developed the technology with zero discharge. We are also involved in producing palm-based biodegradable products. The equivalent palm oil based detergent α-SME compared to petroleum product is more biodegradable. We know that α-SME is a good biodegradable detergent thus we have to propose to the government not to use petroleum chemical instead we have to use palm-based α-SME as it is good for the environment.

Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Augustine Ong, The President of Malaysian Oil Scientists’ & Technologists’ Association (MOSTA)

2. Malaysia planned to continue to address the false allegations on palm oil with scientific facts and evidence to prove that palm oil is healthy and nutritious. With years of experiences in the palm oil industry, could you share with us a little bit on the benefit of palm oil to health?

At the beginning of 1987, the American Soybean Association (ASA) in U.S lumped together palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil as tropical oils which are highly saturated and bad for the heart. They quoted it as a time bomb that can cause heart disease and they campaigned against palm oil. This antitropical oil campaign worried the industry back then and the US Congress wanted to pass their proposed Education Act which states that any product containing tropical oil, the label must state ‘a saturated fat’ after the word ‘tropical oil’. The Felda settlers had a demonstration in the U.S Embassy in KL. The government formed a committee to counter the anti-tropical oil campaign In this context, the government decided to ask the director-general of MPOB to lead a team to counter the antipalm oil campaign. We went to the U.S and told ASA to pull back their attack but they refused.

After 2 years, the ASA surrendered and called for a truce which Malaysia accepted. This implies that we have won the battle. During the anti-palm oil campaign, I as the director-general of Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (PORIM) decided to do more nutrition research.In 1987, we started this research and collaborated with the researchers in Europe, U.S, Australia and Asia. We did some work in IMR to compare palm olein with virgin olive oil. It has been shown that palm oil is as good as olive oil, proven by the research work. The saturation of palm olein is 40 percent and olive oil is 16 percent saturated and yet they induce the same levels of LDL and HDL in human trials.

This observation can be explained by sn-2 hypothesis. It highlights that the fatty acids in the intermediates formed by hydrolysis in the intestines after the action of enzymes are similar. As these are absorbed in the blood, they exert similar effects. This hypothesis has been verified by CSIRO Australia. Further, palm oil is stable when we use it for frying as it is not oxidized easily and oxidized oil is not good for health.

3. What do you look forward to on the partnership of OFIC and PALMEX Malaysia 2020?

Every two years, OFIC brings the best knowledge in oil and fats to inform our people. It is not only on palm oil but also other oils. Therefore, the industry can listen to the lectures and upgrade its performance. We are also interested to have the smallholders as PALMEX attracts the smallholders to the exhibitions. The exhibition organized by PALMEX is very important as it complements what we are doing.

4. What are your views on the government’s plan on the implementation of biodiesel mandates of B20 and B30 to reduce the palm oil stock and promote greener fuel?

B20 means that 20 percent of the mixture is palm biodiesel whereas B30 is 30 percent of it. Indonesia is going to B30 and currently trying the B100. Palm oil is a commodity as the price

will go up and down. The industry prefers a stable price. In the past, they resort to stockpiling by buying the oil at lower price and sell it at higher price; a method called stockpiling. When I joined PORIM in 1981, I suggested another way instead of stockpiling as the later method requires us to borrow money from the bank; it involves paying interest.

I found a solution and suggested to convert the palm oil into diesel. The industry took a vote and 51 percent agreed whereas 49 percent against. We did the field work for two years using B100, B50, and B0. My view is that the implementation of B10 and B20 by industry is not complete as they lose something valuable. If we convert the Crude Palm Oil (CPO) into methyl esters at a low temperature and remove the methyl esters, we will get all the valuable nutrients. We should do this project completely, in converting CPO to methyl esters and glycerine as we will get more value from this project.