In the early years of its entry into global trade, fake news concerning the nutrition of palm oil was especially rampant in the West. FILE PIC

A NEW topic has recently made headlines. This concerns the spread of fake news. News which cannot be substantiated by facts. And, there is always a hidden agenda behind such news. It became a big issue during the United States presidential election. There were claims that the country was bombarded with so much invented news designed to influence the election. That led to a blame game. The Democrats blamed external forces out to discredit their candidate. The Republicans vehemently denied they were involved. Candidate Donald Trump voiced his disappointment with the mainstream media for spreading fake news. Trump, as president, still distrusts the media.

This is apparently not a new phenomenon. In fact, the spreading of untrue news has always been a strategy to shape public opinion. Take the claim of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction fuelled by Western media. It became truly convincing for a global audience. The hidden agenda was to create a case to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Many would not be surprised that there may have been more of such invented news in the past.

Things are different now and getting worse. With the advent of the Internet, social media has taken over the role of spreading fake news. And the reach is even more devastating. Already we hear of such news being cooked up to tarnish the image of individuals. Regulators have come out with a new approach to suppress such practices, recently creating a website for the public to cross-check and validate news. Time will tell whether it will be an effective instrument.

Fake news is not new to the palm oil industry either. This month, the palm oil industry in Malaysia will reach its 100-year mark after the first planting of the Tennamaram Estate way back in 1917. That first foray into oil palm planting now proves to be a major blessing for the country.

Palm oil is not only a big revenue earner for the nation but also a proven instrument of poverty alleviation for the nation. Each year, the earnings from palm oil approach the RM100 billion mark. It would not be wrong to say that palm oil has made Malaysia what it is today. From nowhere, palm oil now leads world trade in edible oils, accounting for more than 30 per cent. But the success has not been without its share of threats and challenges. Fake news has been one of its biggest threats.

In the early years of its entry into global competition, the fake news concerned the nutrition of palm oil. The spread of such news was especially rampant in the West. They claimed palm oil contributed the most to the rise in heart-related diseases. All such unsubstantiated claims have been proven wrong through research and sound science. Now, another piece of fake news is going viral because of certain parties. They claim palm oil is bad for the environment. Going by scientific data, palm oil is, in fact, the most sustainable among the available edible oils.

Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim,

Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia UCSI University