Palm oil labelling

How can we make healthier and sustainably sound choices if manufacturers don't make it clear that their products contain palm oil?
 
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02.Sustainability and health issues

Who currently labels palm oil?palm-oli-fatty-acids-statistic

We spoke with major food manufacturers in Australia and found little desire to go beyond FSANZ labelling requirements when it comes to palm oil. Leaders in the mainstream grocery market, including Arnott’s, Coca Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder, Nestlé, Simplot, Unilever and General Mills, all use palm oil but label it as vegetable oil. 

When it comes to private label goods, Aldi labels palm oil as vegetable oil, while Coles and Woolworths both specifically identify it. But it’s the use of palm oil in Aldi and Woolworths’ products marketed for children, with spruiked nutritional benefits, that’s of greater concern. 

Some of Woolworths’ recently released organic Mini Macro products, sold in the health food aisle in its supermarkets, contain palm oil. When asked why, Woolworths claimed palm oil tastes better and is more widely available than other organic oils. But Australian Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia) disagrees, telling CHOICE: “Australia has a wide range of certified organic oils, including sunflower, available to food processing industries.” 

Aldi similarly uses palm oil in products for children, including its potato chips, which it recommends as part of its balanced lunchbox campaign

On a comparative global scale, international palm oil labelling standards seem to serve overseas consumers better than Australian ones. The Food Information Regulation, published by the EU, requires the type of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, to be stated. Transitional arrangements are in place until this new regulation comes into effect in 2014. Taking this one step further, the French government is even said to be seeking to impose a tax on palm oil (as well as coconut and palm kernel oil). The US and Canada also require palm oil to be labelled.

Sustainable but still unhealthy

Many large food manufacturers have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which aims to encourage those using palm oil to purchase from sustainable sources. All the companies we spoke to responded to questions about the labelling of palm oil with information about their sustainability commitments. But just because palm oil can be sourced sustainably doesn’t make it better for your health. 

The Heart Foundation and Dietitians Association of Australia both warn against the saturated fat content of palm oil, yet the Australian Food and Grocery Council claims palm oil is an important ingredient for the food and grocery manufacturing industry, and in 2010 fought against the proposed Truth in Labelling (Palm Oil) Bill.

What we want

We believe that in order for consumers to make an informed decision to avoid palm oil, access to accurate labelling is vital. For a product with such high levels of saturated fat, we think it’s important to clearly and specifically label, rather than leave it up to the consumer to decipher fat levels on the nutritional panel. Further to this, labelling palm oil in the ingredients list would be much clearer and in line with FSANZ objectives.

Read more about our food labelling campaigns

 

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