By Dan Strechay
On the heels of Memorial Day, a day which many consider the official beginning of summer – and along with it, barbeque season – grocery stores stock up on burgers, hot dogs, buns and condiments to satisfy the masses preparing for long summer days and warm nights at backyard barbeques with neighbors, friends and family.
The little-known common denominator in many of these staple summer barbeque favorites? Palm oil. In fact, palm oil is the world’s most commonly consumed vegetable oil and is estimated to be an ingredient in half of the products we find on the grocery store shelves today. It’s especially widespread in packaged and processed foods because of its stabilizing qualities and ability to improve texture.
Thankfully, major food companies and retailers are increasingly paying closer attention to their palm oil sourcing practices and seeking to gain more visibility into their supply chain. The reason why is simple. As a result of unsustainable palm oil production over the past century, there have been serious social and environmental consequences: significant clearing of tropical rainforests to build palm oil plantations, habitat destruction for endangered species, increased greenhouse gas emission further contributing to climate change, and on top of all that, forced labor and other human rights abuses that have negatively impacted palm oil sourcing communities.
The good news is that a progress is gaining momentum in the food industry; as demand for increased transparency continues to grow among industry stakeholders, consumer advocates, and consumers themselves, many major food brands are taking action. They have the power to ensure that the palm oil and palm oil kernel used in their products is grown and sourced in a sustainable, responsible way.
This process will be a journey, and there is lots more work to be done. However, many food companies have already taken an important first step toward sustainable production by becoming members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and getting their products RSPO certified. RPSO certification is a globally recognized set of standards that help verify companies making sustainable palm oil claims – thus improving consumer confidence in their products. At the same time, the RSPO trademark and Supply Chain Certification give businesses the assurance that the palm oil in their supply chain meets our global Principles & Criteria for sustainable palm oil production, which is currently being revised based on engagement with RSPO members and the public.
After receiving consistent feedback from strategic partners that there was a need for more industry collaboration to accelerate demand for sustainable palm oil, RSPO launched the North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON) in December 2017. NASPON collaborators include associations, civil society organizations, consumer goods manufacturers, food-service retailers, and palm oil traders and producers. The group aims to educate, build momentum and help North American companies in making and delivering on their commitments to source sustainable palm oil. This is especially worth noting as grills are fired up nationwide this summer.
Many food brands have already signed on to NASPON, including Dunkin Brands, Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo, Albertsons Companies and more. In 2017, Kraft Heinz, a RSPO member, announced its commitment to the use of 100 percent RSPO certified product offerings across all its products and business units.
Kraft Heinz is well-known for its production of ketchup and mustard, as well as, other great barbeque pairings, and will certainly be busy this summer making sure that all those burgers and hot dogs are well covered with America’s favorite condiments. Other food brands, large and small, should use this summer to consider what they can do to amplify the use of sustainably produced palm oil. Collectively, we can have a positive impact on sourcing communities, the environment and human and labor rights within the palm oil supply chain.
Dan Strechay is U.S. Representative, Outreach and Engagement, RSPO