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CHOICE says palm oil is being unclearly labelled

Arnott's, Coca Cola and Nestle all label palm oil as vegetable oil

21 May 2013

CHOICE says unclear labelling of products containing palm oil is not allowing consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.

On your next trip to the supermarket consider this; around 50% of the packaged products on the shelves contain palm oil. From chips to shampoo to muesli bars in the health food aisle, palm oil is present.  You’d never know this though, as Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) allow it to be labelled as vegetable oil.
Palm oil is the most consumed edible oil in the world, accounting for 33% of total production in 2009. It’s cheap, versatile, grows quickly and keeps products on the shelf for longer. 130,000 tonnes of palm oil is imported into Australia annually, equivalent to 52 Olympic size swimming pools.
“Unfortunately only 14% of palm oil produced is sustainable, and deforestation is resulting in catastrophic environmental damage. Additionally, it has a saturated fat content of 51%, which fares poorly in comparison to other vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower and olive,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.
“CHOICE believes that in order for consumers to make an informed decision to avoid palm oil should they wish to, access to accurate labelling is vital. For a product with such high levels of saturated fat, we think it is important to clearly and specifically label, rather than leave it up to the consumer to decipher fat levels on the nutritional panel,” says Mr Godfrey.
Leaders in the mainstream grocery market, including Arnott’s, Coca Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder and Nestle, all use palm oil but label it vegetable oil. When it comes to private label goods, Aldi labels palm oil as vegetable oil, while Coles and Woolworths both specifically identify it. 
The use of palm oil in products for children is now widespread with Woolworths recently releasing organic Mini Macro products sold in the health food aisle, containing palm oil. Woolworth’s claims palm oil ‘tastes better’ and is more widely available than organic oils.  Aldi uses palm oil in products for children, including potato chips which it recommends as a part of its balanced lunch box campaign.  
On a comparative global scale, international palm oil labelling standards serve overseas consumers better than Australians. The Food Information Regulation published by the EU, will require the type of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, to be stated by 2014. The US and Canada also require palm oil to be labelled.
CHOICE tips for identifying palm oil
  • Check the nutritional panel for the proportions of saturated to unsaturated fats
  • Note high saturated fat content where vegetable oil is listed means the product probably contains palm oil
  • Be aware that when you’re purchasing processed products there is a chance it may contain palm oil
  • If you have doubts about ‘vegetable oil’ labelling contact manufacturers

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