The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) this week asked retailers, manufacturers and charities to sign up to ‘work towards’ ensuring that all palm oil used in food and other products is responsibly produced and does not contribute to deforestation.
Palm oil is increasingly used as a frying oil in the UK and around the world, and as such the demand for the product has grown rapidly and has contributed to environmental damage in areas such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
“The BHA welcomes the Government statement,” said John Dyson, food advisor for the BHA. “We recognise that the destruction of tropical rainforest due to palm oil production has a major impact on biodiversity, climate change and the land rights of local people.
Palm Oil action plan
“We will work with our member to encourage 100 per cent sustainable sourcing across the sector and take the following actions:
- “Encourage our members to check their supply chains as to whether they are using palm oil or products containing palm oil.
- “Encourage our members to put in place measures to ensure the palm oil they are using is from sustainable and credibly certified sources.”
The environment minister, Richard Benyon, said the Government would 'lead the way' by ensuring that only environmentally friendly-sourced palm oil could be used in central government food and catering services.
"People want to know that the products they are using are not contributing to deforestation and climate change and many UK businesses are already starting to make changes. Producers, manufacturers and charities will continue working together to speed up the move to 100 per cent sustainable palm oil in everyday products," he said.
Pledging their support
The Defra announcement came as the International Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil annual conference takes place in Singapore (29-31 October). Under the new rulings, food labels will have to identify the specific types of vegetable oils that have been used from 13 December 2014.
A number of contract caterers and foodservice outlets and BHA members have also pledged their support for the statement. Phil Hooper, corporate affairs director of Sodexo, said: “We have committed to selecting products and suppliers that support the development of a sustainable palm oil industry in all countries where we operate by 2015.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to sustainable palm oil production and believe this is a paradigm shift in the way we approach such challenging issues.”
And Georgina Wald, head of franchising and communications for Dominos Pizza, added:“We have asked all our suppliers to qualify the source of their palm oil for our products and all source from suppliers who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.”
Meanwhile the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said many food and drink manufacturers had already made substantial progress in this area. The FDF’s director of sustainability, Andrew Kuyk, said: "Many food and drink manufacturers have in place long-standing commitments to using 100% certified sustainable palm oil and the national statement is an important step towards a wider reassurance for consumers that the products they enjoy contain oil from environmentally friendly sources.”
However, retail bodies and charities have criticised the Government for setting ‘weak’ targets. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that many of its members had already made more ambitious commitments.
BRC director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, said: "If the government is serious about achieving comprehensive change in the way palm oil is produced and saving rainforest habitats, it should be pushing other sectors to follow retailers' lead.
"Retailers have already pledged to meet the world's most rigorous standards on 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil, and said they will do it by the end of 2015, because that's the way to generate a market for sustainable product and eliminate the rest."