100 percent sustainable palm oil is possible, claim European suppliers as 2020 targets loom
“Acceptance and adoption of sustainable palm oil faces challenges at both ends of the manufacturing sector”
17 Jun 2019 --- Europe’s food manufacturers and retailers need to choose certified sustainable palm oil instead of backing messages to drop palm oil altogether. That is the assertion from the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) which has joined forces with other industry associations, stakeholder companies, and civil society bodies, to urge all European stakeholders to get behind the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice (SPOC) initiative. The aim is to drive the uptake of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) across Europe’s food manufacturing value chain. The goal is for all manufacturers and retailers to choose and use only CSPO in their production and to achieve the target of 100 percent CSPO in European food manufacturing by 2020.
The acceptance and adoption of sustainable palm oil faces challenges at both ends of the manufacturing sector. Because palm oil has a negative sustainability image among many consumers it can prove difficult to engage smaller companies to embrace CSPO. At the same time, some of the bigger companies that are already fully certified are starting to move away from palm oil altogether.
The Sustainable Palm Oil Choice (SPOC) initiative seeks to reverse this and increase market acceptance for CSPO by engaging stakeholders who are already committed to it to speak up for CSPO and inspire others not only to choose and use it but also to advocate for it.
Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust explains why moving away from palm oil altogether is such a problem. “Our supporters have been confused by messages in the public domain, such as from some UK retailers, that a blanket boycott of palm oil is desirable – a position we categorically do not share. Palm oil doesn’t have to result in deforestation or biodiversity loss, and by demanding responsible palm oil, we can help ensure that it doesn’t,” she says.
“As someone who has been working as a conservationist for over 25 years with a specific focus on protecting orangutans where they are found, I am personally committed to supporting and promoting 100 percent sustainable palm oil in Europe.”
In April 2018, UK retailer Iceland made what it described as a “pioneering” move when it first announced it was removing palm oil from its own label food. The UK’s leading frozen food specialist said that it will stop using palm oil as an ingredient in all its own label food by the end of 2018 and went through a reformulation drive as a result. Iceland initially introduced 100 new lines without palm oil and by early 2019, the supermarket had launched more than 200 new lines that do not contain palm oil. Meanwhile, stores across the UK sold other branded goods containing palm oil.
“We have to empower companies, retailers and consumers to choose sustainable palm oil. I believe we will achieve this by telling honest stories about the impact of sustainable production on the ground,” adds Frans Claassen, EPOA’s Chair.
“As a part of this initiative, EPOA has launched a campaign platform that will showcase explanatory videos, participants’ testimonials, examples and best practices. These stories explain why people believe in CSPO and allows companies and NGOs to speak up. The platform will also include a progress reporting tool in the shape of an interactive map of Europe with the latest monitoring data for individual countries as well as showing progress in palm-oil producing countries.”
Manufacturers, NGOs and producers are being particularly targeted, as they have a key role to play as catalysts helping to drive change within their respective spheres.
Making the choice for sustainable palm oil across Europe helps safeguard rainforests and their biodiversity across the world. Choosing palm oil that is produced sustainably also protects smallholders, uplifts their earning potential, and helps create fair and socioeconomic conditions for growers and workers active across the global palm oil supply chain.
The recent call to action was made at the Sustainable Palm Oil Dialogue event in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Current participants include Agropalma; Cargill; Darby; Fedepalma; FONAP (Forum Nachhaltiges Palmöl); the Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil; Lipsa SA; Nutella; Olenex; Orangutan Land Trust (OLT); Palma Organica; Solidaridad; Robeco and the Spanish Foundation for Sustainable Palm Oil.
Companies and organizations wishing to join the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice initiative can do so at sustainablepalmoilchoice.eu.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the largest palm oil certification organization, is working towards making sustainable palm oil the norm through a process of market transformation. It also has a goal to reach 100 percent certified Sustainable Palm Oil in Europe by 2020.
To date, RSPO certified oil palm grower members have set aside an area of more than 263,000 hectares of High Conservation Value (HCV) land - a 39 percent increase from the previous reporting year. RSPO-certified plantations now cover a total of over 3.8 million hectares across 16 countries and produce over 14 million tons of CSPO – that is 19 percent of global palm oil.
“Not only are new members joining the RSPO every day, we are also continually updating the certification standard. Currently, more than 4000 members across 92 countries are committed to the production and use of sustainable palm oil,” an RSPO spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Sustainability is a journey, and RSPO members commit to this journey with a spirit of continuous improvement.”
In June 2017 the RSPO launched a Smallholder Strategy to improve smallholder inclusivity into its system and help smallholders achieve sustainable livelihoods. And, in November 2017, the RSPO launched a dedicated platform known as RSPO Smallholder Engagement Platform (RSEP), which aims to connect smallholders with potential project partners, as well as provide additional resources and support to smallholders around the world. RSEP works by allowing smallholder groups who are seeking potential financial or non-financial support to upload the details of their project to RSEP, and for facilitators and/or market players to directly connect and assist them with their project.
“Forty percent of the world’s palm oil production comes from small landowners (less than 50 hectares but most of them have one or two hectares of land) and we’re talking about millions of farmers. Through RSPO best management practices, certified smallholders are now reducing or eliminating the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals and replacing them with more ecologically sound alternatives. Most importantly, farming communities learn the importance of protecting their natural resources, and they acquire the tools and resources to do so through the collaboration with industry and NGOs RSPO members, and through the RSPO network,” the spokesperson adds.
“Yet the challenge remains that some smallholders find certification too costly and may continue to suffer from low yields due to poor quality of planting material. The RSPO wants to support more smallholders to become certified in order to improve productivity, raising levels of income among poor farmers and reducing risk of land conversion, which threatens the forest and biodiversity.”
Last year, RSPO CEO, Datuk Darrel Webber spoke at length with FoodIngredientsFirst warning against the unforeseen sustainability and biodiversity impacts that may come from switching to, what he calls, less sustainable edible oils than palm oil.
By Gaynor Selby
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