Pramod Khosla, Ph.D., graduate program director with the department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University, has evaluated palm oil’s potential for reducing trans fats in U.S. food products. Speaking at the 2nd International Palm Oil Trade Fair & Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late August, he noted the adverse health effects of dietary trans monounsaturated fatty acids (trans-FA) have been the subject of intense scrutiny. Intense lobbying at state and local levels has resulted in New York City and Boston imposing bans on trans-FA in restaurants, and in July, California became the first state to legislate a complete ban on trans-FA (by 2010, in restaurant products, and all retail baked goods by 2011). Other states can be expected to follow suit, Khosla believes.

Therefore, replacing trans-FA in the food supply is of primary importance to manufacturers and retailers; such replacements must be readily available, affordable, healthier and suitably functional. An opportunity exists for palm oil to fill the niche created by the gradual removal of trans-FA, and the oil is steadily and increasingly making its way into the U.S.; in 2007, the U.S. imported 500,000 tons of palm oil. Between January-June of this year, that number had increased to 750,000 tons.

“As has been shown repeatedly, blends of palm oil with soya, canola and corn allow for complete elimination of trans-FA, without compromising cost, functionality or health,” Khosla claimed. “Theoretical calculations reveal that all trans-FA in the U.S. food supply can be replaced with a mix of palm and soya oils. As far as the palm oil industry is concerned, the fact remains that palm oil is trans-free; however, that can no longer be used as its sole selling point.” Palm oil must compete with new oils (produced by interesterification or genetic modification) coming onto the marketplace, many of which are trans-free. 

Differentiating Malaysian palm oil in the global marketplace emerged as a key topic over the course of the seminar, and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s Yusof Basiron, Ph.D., unveiled the industry’s efforts to do just that. “The time has come,” he announced, “to give an identity to Malaysian palm oil...This identity will come in the form of a brand name for Malaysian palm oil. The brand will signify all the good qualities of Malaysian palm oil (grown on legally agricultural land, with good management practices ensuring its sustainability, reliable supply and consistent quality).” As Peter Chin, Malaysia’s minister of plantation industries and commodities, explained, such a branding procedure will position Malaysian palm oil as a premium ingredient, and he is confident that the branding strategy will help producers and add value to distributors and their customers.   pf

--William A. Roberts, Jr., Business Editor 

For more information:
American Palm Oil Council • Torrance, Calif.
Mohd Salleh Kassim • 310-944-3910
kassim@americanpalmoil.com • www.americanpalmoil.com