Podcast: Can and should we do without palm oil?

Biotechnology Research: Professor Denis Murphy

Palm Oil plantation - Denis Murphy article

Palm oil plantation: Getty Images

In this research podcast, biotechnologist Professor Denis Murphy asks can and should we do without palm oil? 

Palm oil is found in about half of all food products but has also been implicated in environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity in the tropics where it is grown. Are there alternative crops we can use or is it possible to reform the palm oil industry to make it more sustainable? 

Denis Murphy has worked on oil crops for over 30 years and is looking at ways to either improve or replace palm oil cultivation.

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What is the problem with palm oil?

Hello and welcome to Sixty Seconds Spotlight. I’m Professor Denis Murphy, a biotechnologist at the University of South Wales. My research focuses on using genetic technologies to improve agriculture to cope with new diseases, environmental destruction and climate change. 

It is estimated that as much as half of the items in a typical supermarket contain palm oil.  

Palm oil is a key ingredient that is found in many foods including biscuits, ready meals, cakes, chocolate and ice cream. It’s also found in products like detergents, shampoos, cosmetics and toothpaste. 

But the plantations that produce palm oil are also having adverse effects on the environment and especially on wildlife. Sometimes tropical rain forests are cut down to make room for plantations and animals such as orangutans are endangered. 

So should we just stop using palm oil? 

The problem with that approach is that palm oil is by far the most efficient vegetable oil in terms of its yield.  

So if we replaced it with other oils we would actually need to use even more land and the environmental effects would be even worse.  

The best option is to work with the palm growers so they only use non-forest land for their crops and stick to strict environmental guidelines.  

We are now working with partners to develop ‘certified sustainable’ palm oil brands so that hopefully the next time you buy one of these products it will have come from an environmentally friendly source.

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About Professor Denis Murphy

Biotechnologist Professor Denis Murphy

Denis Murphy is Professor of Biotechnology at the University of South Wales with significant expertise in agriculture, biotechnology and bioinformatics.

He is head of USW's Genomics and Computational Biology Research Group, focusing on genome analysis and data mining in crop plants with special emphasis on oil crops such as rapeseed, soybean and palm oil. 

For the past few decades Professor Denis Murphy has worked as an international advisor and consultant with government agencies and private organisations on topics such as GM crops, biofuels and food security. 

He is Chair of the Biology Advisory Committee at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board and works as Biotechnology Advisor with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

You can see Professor Denis Murphy's research outputs here. To discuss collaborative or industrial research, please contact USW Exchange.

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