The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) says that it shares Iceland’s concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil but does not agree with the solutions being adopted. "If Iceland want to guarantee that their oils and fats sourcing is not causing rainforest destruction, they should work with the rest of the supply chain to promote the use of sustainable standards, such as RSPO, with a view to improve the sustainability of the entire market," said Darrel Webber, CEO, RSPO.
In a response to the UK frozen food retailer Iceland’s announcement earlier this month to remove palm oil from its own label food by the end of this year, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s largest palm oil certification scheme, said that it shares Iceland’s concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil, but does not agree with the solutions Iceland are adopting.
We fully share Iceland’s concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil, but we do not agree with the solutions they are adopting. Before getting rid of palm oil, we should ask ourselves: what is the impact of the alternatives? We should let consumers know that palm trees produce 4 to 10 times more oil per hectare than any other oil crop. Therefore eliminating palm oil might lead to the use of more land with higher risks of deforestation. What if we were to discover that palm oil is replaced by butter from cows fed with unsustainable soy grown at the expense of Amazon forest instead? If Iceland want to guarantee that their oils and fats sourcing is not causing rainforest destruction, they should work with the rest of the supply chain to promote the use of sustainable standards, such as RSPO, with a view to improve the sustainability of the entire market, said Darrel Webber, CEO, RSPO.
Removing palm oil altogether is not the solution says RSPO, highlighting a misconception that the social and environmental concerns around palm oil can be addressed if companies simply stop using palm oil in their products and replace it with other types of oil. However, this is not as easy as it sounds for a number of reasons:
- By eliminating palm oil from the equation, demand would shift to other vegetable oils. This would increase the sustainability problems because compared to other crops, like soybean, sunflower or rapeseed, oil palms produce by far the most vegetable oil per hectare of land (4-10 times more), so switching to other vegetable oils may very well result in more primary forests being converted into agricultural land, not less.
- In producing countries, millions of farmers and their families work in the palm oil sector. Palm oil plays an important role in the reduction of poverty in these areas. In Indonesia and Malaysia, a total of 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Stopping the production of palm oil would mean these people will no longer be able to support their families.
- Replacing palm oil with other types of oil is not always feasible due to palm oil’s unique properties as a food ingredient. Using other oils would not give the products the same texture and taste that palm oil offers.
For sustainability reasons, RSPO says that it is better to switch to sustainable palm oil than to other vegetable oils, a view confirmed by a 2016 WWF Germany report, “Palm Oil Report Germany – searching for alternatives”.
According to the report “the one-to-one substitution of palm oil with other tropical plant oils would not meet the desired objectives. Soya and coconut oil grow in similar or ecologically similarly sensitive regions, and therefore the replacement of one oil for another would not solve the problem but only shift it elsewhere and, in part, even exacerbate it. More land would be required, more greenhouse gas emissions would be generated, and more species would be endangered.”