06/12/2018 – News / Retail / Food Processing / Sustainability / Agriculture / Palm Oil / UK
Upcoming debate on banning ‘unsustainably-sourced’ palm oil products in the UK
On Monday 10th December, British MPs will debate a petition urging the Government to ban the sale of products containing unsustainably-sourced palm oil in the UK.
The debate will start at 16:30 GMT and be opened by Thornbury and Yate MP, Luke hall – a member of the Pensions Committee.
“Global production of, and demand for, palm oil is increasing rapidly,” states the petitioner. “But this is at the expense of tropical rainforests which form critical habitats for many endangered species and a lifeline for some human communities. Palm oil can be found in many foods and other household items.
“Thousands upon thousands of orangutans have been killed and the destruction of the rainforests is increasing at an exponential rate,” it continues. “We cannot control what happens in these countries, but we can refuse to accept palm oil sourced via an unsustainable method in the UK.”
In response to the petition, which has almost 90,000 signatories, the Government stated that: “Government and signatories of the UK Statement on Sustainable Production of Palm Oil have achieved a high level of success in working towards 100-per-cent sourcing of credibly-certified sustainable palm oil.”
Monday’s debate will provide an opportunity for MPs to question a Government Minister directly on this topic.
Making ‘sustainably-sourced’ the norm
The distinction between banning unsustainably-sourced palm oil (as the new petition is pushing for) and an outright ban on all palm oil products highlights an important but often overlooked nuance in the palm oil debate, with leading environmental ngo WWF stating that boycotting the versatile ingredient is not as helpful as it might initially seem.
Announced to much fan-fare earlier this year, frozen food retail chain Iceland declared its intention to remove palm oil from its own-brand products. However, WWF thinks such actions (that is, to outright ban rather than a shift to sustainably sourced palm oil) risk kicking the can down the road.
“Boycotts of palm oil will neither protect nor restore the rainforest, whereas companies undertaking actions for a more sustainable palm oil industry are contributing to a long-lasting and transparent solution,” the organisation said in a statement.
“Without transparency around the alternative oils to be used by Iceland, and evidence of how their actions to publicly boycott and source alternative oils will help to reduce the global pressure of unsustainable vegetable oil production on biodiversity to include rainforests, WWF cannot support the retailer’s approach of removing palm oil from its products.”
In September 2016, WWF Germany published a report looking at the environmental consequences of palm oil substitution in Germany. One of the main conclusions was that exchanging palm oil with other oils can actually worsen the problems.
“Palm oil – when grown responsibly and to the best standards – is the highest yielding vegetable oil; and so substitution of palm oil with other oils, such as soybean, rapeseed and sunflower, can require significantly more land to produce the same volume. This could potentially cause greater impact to habitats, biodiversity and the environment,” the WWF stated. “And because the global market for vegetable oil is so interlinked and palm oil is one of the least expensive oils, switching from palm to alternative oils is likely to simply shift demand elsewhere, meaning that overall demand for palm oil does not decrease. WWF therefore considers it is more productive to work with the palm oil sector, as well as other vegetable oil sectors, to move them to sustainability rather than to boycott their products.”