Movimento Mundial pelas Florestas Tropicais

Malaysia – WRM information sheet on GE tree research

Disponível apenas em inglês.

 WRM information sheets on GE tree research

First posted: August 2014

Forest tree species being manipulated:

  • Oil Palm
  • Rubber

Aim of genetic manipulation

  • For GE Oil palm, obtain oil palms with high value-added fatty acids and novel products (1). Using genetic engineering to enhance oil yield is presented by Industry as a way of  meeting the growing demand for palm oil “in a sustainable manner”(2) Another literature source summarizes the transgenic research aims to improve oil quality and secondary plant products(3). A roadmap set out in 2010 by Industry expects commercialization of GE Oil palm be available not earlier than in 2040. (4)
  • For GE Rubber, focus is on disease resistance, yield and production of high value products like proteins. (3)

Those carrying out the research:

  • The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB). They claim to have published the genome of oil palm [the African oilpalm, E. guineensis, and the South American oil-palm, E. oleifera] as well as the so-called “shell”  gene that, according to the researchers, can be exploited to increase the palm oil content in oil palm fruits.(5)
  • Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (3)
  • The Malaysian Rubber Board (3)
  • Obs.: The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, together with public and private institutions, is focused on research on GE fruit trees, mainly papaya.(6)

Involvement of foreign research partners:

  •  The MPOB is doing research with collaborators from the USA. (5)

Those who provide support to research:

  • The MPOB is funded both by the Malaysian government as well as by oil palm companies active in Malaysia.
  • The in 1995 established National Biotechnology Directorate (NBD), a division of the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, supports the biotechnology activities in the country, promotes networking and aims to have Malaysia as the leader of the biotechnology industry. (3)

Regulatory framework for research and field trials:

  • This is based on the “Malaysia Biosafety Act” from 2007, that came into force in 2009, and also on the subsequent “Biosafety (Approval and Notification) Regulations 2010”.  The National Biosafety Board (NBB)  is the statutory body to administer and make decisions, including about field trials,  under and in accordance to the Act. It is chaired by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and composed of several Ministerial representatives, while it is advised by the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC), composed by scientists.  (7)

Field trials:

  • Since the approval of the “Malaysia Biosafety Act”, only one field trial with GE trees (papaya) was approved by the NBB in 2013. (8)
  • Before this approval, the MPOB did carry out contained field trials but the research was stopped later.
  • In October 2014, the National Biosafety Board informed publicly that it was assessing an application for approval from the Malaysian Rubber Board for a field experiment with transgenic rubber trees “to evaluate and characterize foreign proteins in latex and leaf tissues”. (

Organizations opposing GE trees:

Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam (FoE) Malaysia are active groups opposed to Genetically Modified Crops.

Obs.: The opposition against GMO crops especially in Europe could explain the argument used by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that suggests in its public information that oil palm, different from its main competitor on the vegetable oil market, soy bean,  is entirely GMO-free. (9)

This could also influence the fact that the development of GM palm oil is not going fast, given that commercially available GE palm oil could meet a lot of resistance in Europe, a major market for the Malaysian palm oil. (10)