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Europe on track to achieving 100% sustainable palm oil in food, feed and oleochemicals

As the second largest global import market for palm oil, the European Union (EU) is strongly positioned to lead the way in mitigating the negative impact of unsustainable palm oil production. A new monitoring report by the European Sustainable Palm Oil (ESPO) project shows that there is a growing volume of sustainable palm oil entering the European market. Some 69 percent of the palm oil imported 2016 for food into European refineries was certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).

Commercial oil palm production in Malaysia celebrates its centenary in 2017 (photos courtesy Gustav Melin).

Commercial oil palm production in Malaysia celebrates its centenary in 2017 (photos courtesy Gustav Melin).

Palm oil is an ingredient that is estimated to be found in about half of all packaged goods in the supermarket, including food and non-food items. Recently released by ESPO, the report “Making sustainable palm oil the norm in Europe: Progress Report on the import and use of sustainable palm oil in Europe” provides insights on the palm oil import and trade flow in 13 European countries.

According to the report, global palm oil production 2016 was 58.9 million tonnes. The EU imported 7.1 million tonnes of palm oil in 2016 making it the second largest import market with a 17 percent share of global palm oil imports, trailing two percentage points behind India, the largest import market 2016 with a 19 percent share. Of EU’s 7.1 million tonnes palm oil import, 3.7 million tonnes was destined for the food industry 7 and 3.4 million tonnes for the energy sector.

Biofuel feedstock already 100 percent certified

As all feedstock used for biofuels in the EU must comply with the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the palm oil used for the energy sector (48 percent of the total import) is not included in the scope of the report – the RED already stipulates the use of 100 percent certified feedstocks. Instead, the report focuses on the 3.7 million tonnes used for food and other non-energy uses.

There would seem to be no shortage of food and non-energy uses as palm oil is estimated to be found in about half of all packaged goods in the supermarket – from cookies to cosmetics, pastries to paint and snacks to shampoo. Some 69 percent of the palm oil imported 2016 for food into European refineries was certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and approximately 60 percent of the palm oil used for food in Europe was estimated to be CSPO in 2016.

The report also highlights the positive development of an increasing number of national commitments to reach 100 percent sustainable palm oil in 2020. The European palm oil supply chain is “making good progress” towards its 100 percent commitment, however, the figures show that there is still a gap between the imported volume of CSPO and the actual uptake for CSPO by the food industry.

The next step is to increase the uptake of imported CSPO into Europe and the report notes that all stakeholders in the supply chain need to work together and commit to increasing the use of sustainable palm oil. The positive trend of increased use of sustainable palm oil in Europe goes hand in hand with increased production of sustainable palm oil in producing countries over the last years.

According to RSPO's 2016 Impact Report, Thailand has now 1 336 smallholders under RSPO certification.

According to the ESPO report, Thailand accounted for around 4 percent of global palm oil production in 2016.

In 2017, 2,83 million hectares (ha) were certified as Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), 1,9 million ha as Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and 260 000 ha as Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO).

ESPO works in close collaboration with various national palm oil initiatives on sustainable palm oil and umbrella EU associations. ESPO and all its European partners strive towards the goal of 100 percent sustainable palm oil in Europe by 2020 and aim to engage all parties who are not yet active to join this effort.

According to ESPO, this is important since mainstream sustainable palm oil demand from Europe will help incentivize smallholder palm oil producers in Asia, Africa and Latin America to implement responsible production practices and halt deforestation connected to palm oil.

About European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA)

The European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) is a business initiative to engage with and educate stakeholders on the full palm oil story. EPOA closely collaborates with national initiatives active in the different European countries, facilitating science-based communication and creating a balanced view on the nutritional and sustainability aspects of palm oil. EPOA strongly supports the uptake of 100 percent sustainable palm oil.

The European Sustainable Palm Oil (ESPO) project was established in 2015 by IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, and MVO – the Netherlands Oils and Fats Industry, to stimulate national initiatives that promote the uptake of more sustainable palm oil by the European food, feed and oleochemical industry. The goal is to achieve 100 percent sustainable palm oil in Europe by 2020. The report is the second annual monitoring report of ESPO.

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