02.Sustainability and health issues
Who currently labels palm oil?
We spoke with major food
manufacturers in Australia in 2013 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,
Coles and Woolworths both specifically identify palm oil, while Aldi labels it as vegetable oil.
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 to be stated. Transitional
arrangements are in place until this
new regulation comes into effect in December 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
Although palm oil is rich in carotenoids (antioxidants), it contains more than 50% saturated fat. It doesn't contain cholesterol, but can cause raised total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol levels, depending on the levels of other fats in the diet.
The WHO believes there’s convincing evidence that palmitic acid (which is found in palm oil) contributes to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease, and for heart health the Heart Foundation recommends steering clear of high saturated fat ingredients, such as palm oil.
What we want
We 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. 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.