KUALA LUMPUR: An Italian think tank has defended the palm oil industry against accusations that it degrades the environment, saying it uses land more efficiently than do industries producing competing oils.

Speaking to FMT at the venue of the International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition here, Competere founder Pietro Paganini said the yields of sunflower, rapeseed, soy and several other vegetable oil sources were lower than oil palm and they therefore required more land to produce.

Competere’s work focuses on sustainable development policies.

Paganini also said palm oil trumped its competitors in job creation because its production requires more labour.

Competere founder Pietro Paganini.

He said concerns over deforestation had encouraged the industry and producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia to improve the sustainability of the supply chain.

He acknowledged the possibility that some smallholders were still carrying out open burning and abusing their lands in other ways, but he said these were a dwindling minority.

He accused the European Union of looking at this minority as if it is the majority, saying this was probably because it had to defend the interests of industries producing European oils such as sunflower and rapeseed.

Paganini said Competere tracked Italian biscuit makers for four years from 2014, when the European campaign against palm oil began.

The negative sentiment caused many of the smaller biscuit companies to ditch palm oil in favour of other oils, he said.

“They thought they were going to make money, but only the biggest one saw an increase in sales,” he added.