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Malaysia Refutes Singapore University Report on Health Risks of Palm Oil

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Malaysia, the second-largest palm oil producer in the world, condemned on Wednesday a recently released report by academics in Singapore about the negative effects cooking with the high-saturated fat product can have on health, according to local media.

“I plan to visit the relevant minister in Singapore. It is very sad that the findings come from our neighbor,” said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, as reported by the Malaysian Star newspaper.

According to the study by researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), palm oil’s high level of saturated fat – 49 percent compared with 14 percent in olive oil and 7 percent in canola oil – can raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, heightening the risk of coronary heart disease by 6 percent.

“Although small amounts of palm oil are unlikely to have a large effect on LDL cholesterol and one’s risk of heart disease, many of us are eating large amounts of palm oil on a daily basis,” said the study’s co-researcher Professor Rob van Dam of NUS’ Public Health school, in a statement published on the university website.

In Singapore, palm oil is the cheapest oil on the market, costing only 6-8 Singapore dollars ($4-5) for a two-liter bottle, while coronary heart disease accounts for 16 percent of all deaths, or 864,000 deaths per year, on the island nation, according to the Singapore Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer globally after Indonesia, with over 18.7 tons produced per year on 5 million hectares (19,000 square miles) of plantations since 2012, accounting for 31.7 percent of the total global supply.

In 2016, the Southeast Asian nation is expected to produce some 20.1 million tons of palm oil for both domestic consumption and export.

The Malaysian government has called NUS’ research findings “malicious allegations” that must be addressed by Malaysian industry players and ministries, said Uggah, who said he will also raise the issue with Singaporean authorities.

Malaysian industry leaders have also called on their own government to counter the “persistent misperception” about the widely-used cooking oil.

“What is the truth? Is the report bad science? There are a number of studies with favorable conclusions about the health aspect of palm oil consumption, but unfortunately these findings did not find traction in the public media and mindsets,” said Joseph Tek, the president of the Malaysian Estate Owners Association.

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