WWF steps ups palm oil sustainability scrutiny

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sustainable palm oil, Palm oil, Fat

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is set to step up scrutiny of how manufacturers source their palm oil over the next six months after a poor industry response to purchasing sustainable shipments of the ingredient.

The environmental organisation claims that just one per cent of certified palm oil currently on the market has been taken up since becoming available last year, with assessments now set to take place on major users of the ingredient.

A spokesperson for the group says that it is early days for manufacturers to be switching to sustainability-sourced forms of the vegetable oils, having only been on the market since November 2008, though said it was still possible.

WWF spokesperson Adam Harrison says the group therefore hopes to cooperate with manufacturers to overcome issues relating to adopting sustainable palm oil, particularly with the complexity of some industry supply chains.

Sales struggle

Of 1.3 million tonnes of the certified vegetable oil produced by members signed up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Rodney Taylor, who heads the WWF’s international forests programme, says less than 15,000 tonnes have been sold.

“This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of the RSPO and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of Southeast Asia, as well as other forests where oil palm is set to expand, such as the Amazon,” ​says Taylor.

Palm oil, used in a diverse range of food formulations including bread and crisps, is enjoying strong appeal amongst food makers as they turn to solutions that can provide lower levels of trans fatty acids in products.

However, this popularity has led to some concerns about the environmental affects on key supply areas like Indonesian rainforest.

In light of the potential detrimental impacts on the environment from demand for the vegetable oil, the WWF was one of a number of groups along with suppliers and food manufacturers like Unilever to set up the RSPO.

As part of the RSPO’s mission to promote more sustainable forms of palm oil, the WWF says it is calling on all manufacturers from the food to cosmetic industries to publicly commit to sourcing 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

Market challenges

Harrison says that despite this target, the WWF accepts that since the RSPO launched the sustainable palm oil last year, there has been little time for some manufacturers to adapt their often complex supply chains accordingly. He stressed that some companies had succeeded in defying these challenges.

“[Sustainable palm oil] comes in a wide range of derivatives or already incorporated in ingredients and across a very wide range of product lines,”​ states Harrison. “This makes identifying sources and then shifting to certified alternatives complex. However, those companies that have seen this as a priority have solved these problems, so it is possible.”

For companies adapting their operations in line with RSPO standards, the WWF claims that the measures can ensure more efficient use of resources cutting cost as well as waste and pollution.

“There are additional auditing and assessment costs but these are spread over large volumes,”​ says Harrison. “So on balance, WWF believes that the costs are not prohibitive.”

Related topics: Ingredients, Sustainability

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