Palm oil labelling

How can we make informed, more sustainable choices if palm oil labelling isn't mandatory?
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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 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 your health. 

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. 


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