Palm oil

Palm oil is a risk to both the environment and your health. Is there any hiding in your pantry?
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03.Action on palm oil

Many community and NGO campaigns have sprung up in recent years in response to the increasing environmental and social threats of the global palm oil industry.

  • Greenpeace International has put pressure on large food companies such as Nestlé to switch from palm oil or at least buy from sustainable palm oil producers. As a result, Nestlé has recently brought forward its commitment to source only from sustainable palm oil suppliers.
  • WWF Australia is campaigning for all large Australian manufacturers and retailers with private labels to use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015, and has produced a scorecard of companies according to their palm oil use.
  • In response to the scorecard, Woolworths has committed to switching to 100% certified sustainable palm oil in its own brand products, while manufacturer Goodman Fielder will seek sustainable palm oil for its retail-branded products.
  • Palm Oil Action (an Australian group) believes consumer pressure persuaded KFC and Cadbury to remove palm oil from their products. Last year, KFC announced it would switch to a canola-sunflower blend in response not only to environmental campaigns targeting palm oil, but also government pressure to reduce the saturated fat content of its food.
  • Zoos Victoria has run the “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign calling for the labelling of palm oil in all Australian food products, as a step towards reducing the deforestation of orang-utan habitat in South-East Asia. In 2009, independent senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, proposed a bill to mandate labelling of foods as containing palm oil or certified sustainable palm oil. This was supported by 80,000 signatures from the Zoos Victoria campaign as well as CHOICE and the Heart Foundation, but was opposed by the food industry and to date has not become law.

If you can, avoid palm oil altogether or consume only certified sustainable palm oil. Limit your intake of foods labelled as containing palm oil and be cautious about unspecified vegetable oils listed on food labels.

We’d like food manufacturers to replace palm oil wherever possible with healthier oils that are sustainably sourced. Where no suitable alternative exists, manufacturers should be required to use only certified sustainable palm oil. We also want labelling laws to make it mandatory for food labels to list palm oil in the ingredients list, rather than hiding it as unspecified vegetable oil.

The certified oil debate

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 to promote more environmentally and socially sustainable palm oil products. RSPO’s members include producers, traders, manufacturers, retailers and investors, as well as environmental and social groups, including WWF. To date, RSPO has certified 1.5 billion tons of “sustainable” palm oil.

The RSPO has been criticised by some conservation organisations that claim it is overly influenced by the industry’s economic desires. Although certified oil is “produced without undue harm to the environment or society” as defined by RSPO criteria, it does allow some clearance of peat forests or other endangered ecosystems.

Certified sustainable palm oil is nevertheless an improvement on business as usual. Although the Western market is far smaller than the Asian one, consumer support for certified products, rather than a simple boycott on palm oil in general, could have a beneficial knock-on effect across the industry.


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