By Brian Collett — An international group of scientists, food manufacturers, nutritionists, NGOs and policymakers has urged all farmers to produce palm oil in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way, and has asked all European consumers to avoid the rogue products.
The call to action follows widespread worries that plantations of palm oil, which is used in many food and household goods, are causing serious deforestation, threatening the survival of animal species and leading to human rights abuses.
The campaigners emphasised that boycotts alone are no solution as palm oil is such a useful ingredient and is an alternative to unhealthy trans fats.
Often other oils and fats as palm oil substitutes are even worse for the environment as they need more land and can destroy more animal habitats.
The environmentalists, who were discussing the issues at the annual conference of the European Palm Oil Alliance in Warsaw, signed a statement committing all their European operations to use only the sustainable product by 2020.
At least one campaigner was considerably more ambitious. The target was set for two years earlier by the Norwegian Initiative for Sustainable Palm Oil, a combination of many companies, producers, retailers and hotels bound to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international group promoting responsible production of the crop and widely known as RSPO.
Its members agreed to use “only RSPO-segregated or traceable and sustainably produced palm oil by the end of 2018”.
The alliance is trying to extend its influence to Eastern Europe, where environmental issues may have had low priority during the communist years.
Frans Claasen, chair of the Alliance, said: “In eastern European countries palm oil is widely used but at the same time relatively unknown.
“There are currently already eleven sustainable palm oil initiatives of the food industry in EU member countries. The conference has raised awareness about the functional, nutritional and sustainability aspects of palm oil in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe.
“We invite these countries to join us and help achieve our goal of a 100 per cent sustainable palm oil market in Europe.”
Claasen told industry stakeholders: “By linking with the recently initiated Joint Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries, the alliance is in a good position to support and maintain efforts to improve sustainable production.
“With the support of the European Sustainable Palm Oil project the alliance will continue to facilitate and support actions to improve sustainable production and achieve 100 per cent palm oil production in Europe in 2020.”
One of the delegates, the WWF charity, had praise for a number of US companies that are practising sustainable sourcing. They included the food and drink manufacturers General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Pepsico and Mars, the Yum! Brands fast food group, the supermarket chain Walmart, and the chemicals conglomerate DuPont.
Another message from the alliance is that, to foster understanding and trust, the food industry must be transparent, providing “factual, science-based information to inform stakeholders and decision-makers as well as consumers about the role that palm oil plays in our diet”.
Claasen adds further encouragement for openness from the sector and its customers: “More awareness and public support from the food industry, retail, governments, politicians and NGOs for sustainable palm oil initiatives of the industry is needed to truly improve sustainability in the palm oil supply chain.”
Some help could be offered by an online database newly established by Friends of the Earth and a Californian environmental organisation showing investors where palm oil deforestation and land grabs are occurring.
Photo: European Palm Oil Alliance