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What you need to know about the push to make palm oil sustainable

  • On August 19, 2016

abc.net.au
What you need to know about the push to make palm oil sustainable

Posted 29 Jul 2016, 2:14pmFri 29 Jul 2016, 2:14pm

You have probably heard a lot about palm oil and the movement across the world to make its production sustainable.

It is considered a major environmental issue because as an ingredient palm oil is used in a lot of supermarket products, but cultivating the plants it’s extracted from has historically led to major deforestation and displacement problems.

A group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is working to make its production sustainable.

So, let’s take a look at what’s happening with palm oil.
What is palm oil?

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) describe it like this:

Palm oil is a vegetable fat obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. It contains a high proportion of saturated fat.

This is unusual as most vegetable fats do not contain high proportions of saturated fats; however there are exceptions such as palm oil and coconut oil

How widely used is palm oil?

If you eat supermarket products like margarine, biscuits, instant noodles, chocolate, or ice cream, you’re probably eating palm oil.

If you buy products like candles or cosmetics, you’re probably buying palm oil.

According to the RSPO, manufacturers of these products like it because:

It has great cooking properties. It maintains its properties even under high temperatures
Its smooth and creamy texture and absence of smell make it a perfect ingredient in many recipes, including baked goods
It has a natural preservative effect which extends the shelf life of food products
It is also the highest-yielding vegetable oil crop, which makes it very efficient.

Palm oil needs less than half the land required by other crops to produce the same amount of oil.

This makes palm oil the least expensive vegetable oil in the world.
So, is ‘vegetable oil’ actually palm oil?

Sometimes.

“Vegetable oil” is a term found on many food and product labels that encompasses a lot of different kinds of oil, palm oil being one of them, but it could also refer to other varieties, including canola, sunflower or soybean.

WWF said palm oil was now the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, “accounting for 65 per cent of all vegetable oil traded internationally”.

The RSPO said about 50 per cent of supermarket products contained palm oil.

Melbourne Zoos are part of a movement in Australia pushing for mandatory labelling of palm oil.

FSANZ is the authority in Australia that deals with food labelling.

It says “under current regulations palm oil does not have be labelled as palm oil” and “it can be labelled using generic terms such as ‘vegetable oil'”.

“FSANZ has previously rejected an application for mandatory ingredient labelling of palm oil when used in food products because the application was about environmental concerns.”

What’s the problem exactly?

The RSPO says “in some regions, oil palm cultivation has caused — and continues to cause — deforestation”.

“This means that land, which was once predominantly covered by primary forest … never before touched by man or which housed protected species and biodiversity, was cleared in order to be converted into palm oil plantations,” it says.

“Likewise, some palm oil plantations were developed without consulting local communities over the use of their land.

“Some have even been responsible for forcibly displacing people from their land. Violations of workers’ rights to fair payment and safe working conditions and other malpractices have also occurred.”

Zoos Victoria estimates 1,000 orangutans die each year as a result of their habitat being destroyed through unsustainable palm oil production.
Is there a solution?

Firstly, replacing palm oil production and use in manufacturing with another vegetable will reportedly create similar — if not worse — environmental and social problems.

The RSPO says:

“The best solution is to ensure you buy products that contain sustainable palm oil.”

The roundtable says sustainable palm oil production helps to keep millions of farmers and families who work in the sector out of poverty.

So, when you’re shopping, the advice is to look for labelling that talks about sustainable palm oil production.

It is often marked by the acronym CSPO, meaning Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

There are several supply chain options though so, WWF has broken down what’s happening in the Australian market.

Topics: environment, australia