01.Label the truth or palm it off
It’s versatile and cheap, prolongs the shelf life of products, and the crop grows
quickly. So it’s no surprise
that palm oil is an appealing
ingredient to manufacturers
of consumer goods, both edible
these favourable traits,
there is a dark side to palm
oil. With only 14% of the oil
produced globally certified
through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,
caused by deforestation
is catastrophic. And with
a saturated fat content of
51%, the health implications
are just as dire – it’s very
poor compared with other
vegetable oils, such as canola
(7.6%), sunflower (11.2%)
and olive (16%).
Palm oil is the most consumed
edible oil in the world, accounting for
33% of total production in 2009 (olive
oil accounted for just two per cent).
India was the largest consumer of
palm oil in the world in 2009. With the country's consumption more than doubling from 2005 to 2009, its population’s obesity
rates are growing alongside.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, palm oil is present in about
half the packaged products
on Australian supermarket shelves
– including everything from bread and
biscuits to chips, chocolate
and even personal care
products such as shampoo. The Australian Food and Grocery Council estimates an even
larger presence – about 80%.
However, you’d never know this as Food Standards Australia and New Zealand
(FSANZ) allows palm oil to be labelled simply
as vegetable oil.
Why no label?
In 2008, FSANZ was presented with
a proposal to label palm oil by name
for health and environmental reasons.
However, it rejected the proposal,
claiming environmental issues sat
beyond its scope of regulation and
that consumers concerned about
the saturated fat content in palm
oil could see this in the nutrition
information panel of food labels.
A private member’s bill, proposed by
SA senator Nick Xenophon in 2010 to
provide clear, accurate information
about the inclusion of palm oil, was
knocked back by the government,
which estimated it would cost industry
$150m and breach Australia’s
World Trade Organization obligations.
In 2011, following a comprehensive
review of food labelling, it was
recommended that palm oil be specifically labelled. In response, FSANZ
announced that the development of a
technical evaluation and advice based
on this recommendation would be
a priority. Specific time frames for this
project weren’t available at the time of publication.