Palm oil is found in roughly 50 per cent of all packaged products on supermarket shelves including shampoos, baking oil, chocolate, cosmetics, chips, cookies, margarine and soaps.
Unfortunately, not only does palm oil promote heart disease, but the vast plantations that grow oil palm trees have contributed to the destruction of the rainforest of South East Asia and threaten the survival of animals such as the Orangutan in Borneo, the Sumatran tiger, and Asian rhinoceros. Additionally, burning after deforestation accounts for significant greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, it has recently been deemed a potential saviour as a renewable resource for use as a biofuel.
> See the Rainforest Action Network’s ‘ What’s your connection to rainforest destruction?‘ info-graphic.
It is not always easy to identify products with palm oil, as Food Standards Australia and New Zealand allow it to be labelled simply as ‘vegetable oil’. Generally if the saturated fat content is about 50%, there is a good chance that the vegetable oil will in fact be palm oil.
Many large food manufacturers have joined the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an initiative that encourages members to buy palm oil from sustainable sources. The RSPO certifies a range of palm oil supply options which vary in their degree of sustainability or environmental impact.
- Identity Preserved Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is oil that’s 100% certified sustainable, and fully traceable to a single source.
- Segregated CSPO is oil that’s 100% certified sustainable from mixed sources.
- Mass balance is a combination of certified and uncertified palm oil.
- Book and Claim/GreenPalm is essentially a trading scheme whereby certificates are purchased by companies to offset their usage of uncertified palm oil. GreenPalm supports the production of sustainable palm oil – and companies that purchase certificates can make a sustainable claim – but the oil itself from this supply option isn’t certified sustainable. 55% of RSPO-certified palm oil sales in 2014 were via GreenPalm.
Of the four supply chain models above, only Identity Preserved and Segregated allow palm oil to be traced back to its source. Look for these. Mass Balance and Green Palm (Book & Claim) mix oils and use certificates for exchange which has been criticised as ineffectual.
The following ‘palm oil scorecards’ are used in assessments by Shop Ethical!, adding to a company’s rating. They show companies’ progress in relation to palm oil sourcing.
- WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2013
- Union of Concerned Scientists’ Palm Oil Scorecard 2015
- Rainforest Foundation/Ethical Consumer Palm Oil Guide 2016
See the Guardian’s ‘From rainforest to your cupboard: the real story of palm oil‘ interactive.
Labelling in Australia
Palm oil is most commonly labelled generically as ‘vegetable oil’ which can be any kind of oil like canola or soybean.
In 2009, the ‘Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation’, made up of Ministers from across Australia and New Zealand, commissioned an independent labelling review. The review was chaired by former Australian Health Minister, Dr. Neal Blewett and involved extensive public consultation with the panel receiving over 6,000 submissions. Their final report, published in 2011 and titled ‘Labelling Logic’ had 61 recommendations with one of them being the clearer labelling of vegetable oils:
Recommendation 12 – Where sugars, fats or vegetable oils are added as separate ingredients in a food, the terms ‘added sugars’ and ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list … added fats (palm oil, milk fat) or added vegetable oils (sunflower oil, palm oil);
In November 2016 the Victorian Andrews government declared Palm oil labelling a priority. On November 25, 2016 the ‘Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation’ met to further discuss, notes on progress from this meeting are here.
- Net Balance Foundation ” Palm Oil in Australia -Facts, Issues and Challenges”. Commissioned by WWF-Australia and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) exploring the challenges surrounding palm oil, and to provide a spring board for efforts to increase the supply of sustainable palm oil into the Australian market. (March 2013)
- Choice magazine updated report focusing on the need for ‘Palm oil labelling‘ (May 2013)
- WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2013 report looks at companies’ commitment to, and use of, RSPO certified palm oil.
- Greenpeace report ‘ Certifying Destruction – ‘Why consumer companies need to go beyond the RSPO to stop forest destruction’ ( September 2013)
More at unseenthemovie.com
Things you can do
In the storeAvoid products containing palm oil
- Check the ingredients — see the various names for palm oil here.
- Palm oil may be in a product but labelled simply as ‘vegetable oil’. An indicator however is if the nutritional panel lists saturated fat and it’s higher than 50%, and yet there no animal fat listed as an ingredient, there is likely to be palm kernel oil, palm oil or coconut oil, as a component of ‘vegetable oil’ (most likely to be palm). If the product contains margarine, it is highly likely that the margarine will have been derived from palm oil.
- In cosmetic products, labelling is compulsory, however palm oil is usually labelled as ‘Elaeis guineensis‘.
- For a list of branded products that do not contain palm oil, see the ‘Helping you buy responsibly‘ section on the Borneo Orangutan Survival website.
- See OneGreen Planet Responsible Palm Oil Shopping Guide for company responses to whether their products contain palm oil.
- Check out Auckland Zoo‘s palm oil-free shopping guide and wallet card, Easter goodie guide, and study snack guide.
- Shop for products with no palm oil or palm oil derivatives at palmoilfreeproducts.com.au
- Send a message to manufacturers notifying them of your choices to buy or not to buy their product due to this issue. Use our Shop Ethical! app instore, or see our company profile pages for email addresses.
- The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2013 report assessed the palm oil buying practices of major companies in Europe, Australia and Japan, looking at these companies’ commitment to, and use of, palm oil certified to the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
- Victorian Zoo’s Zoopermarket allows you to give feedback to companies for their adoption (or lack of) of certified palm oil.
- See Palm Oil Action’s Palm Oil Shopping Guide for a brand list of companies who are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).
- About the RSPO – from the RSPO website; and wikipedia outlining some significant limitations and criticisms from various NGOs.
- Sign on-line petitions and join existing campaigns on this issues at our Take Action page.
- Use emails from our company profile pages to a message to manufacturers and brand-owners about this issue.
- Write letters and order ‘protest postcards’ from palmoilaction.org.au
- Volunteer at the Palm Oil Action Group
- The Australian Orangutan Project
- Zoo’s Victoria’s “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign
- See ‘Green‘ – a film about a female orang-utan – a victim of deforestation and resource exploitation. It is a visual ride presenting the treasures of rainforest biodiversity and the devastating impacts of logging and land clearing for palm oil plantations.
Campaigns see change! The Dove Onslaught(er) video by Greenpeace, a remix of the Dove Onslaught video, targeted Unilever as the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world. This campaign in 2008 saw Unilever agree to an “immediate moratorium on deforestation for palm oil plantations”.