French and German palm oil industries and users have joined a handful of other European countries in committing to source all palm oil sustainably with national pledges announced at the European Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) summit in Berlin this week.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to commit to certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), pledging in 2010 to source all palm oil from sustainable sources by the end of 2015. Belgium has done the same, and both countries have led their initiatives in a similar way to the newly announced French and German plans – uniting all those who use, process and handle palm oil in their country under a common pledge.
The UK came out with a similar commitment last October to ‘work towards’ sustainable palm oil by 2015, although its pledge was spearheaded by the government, which then brought industry associations and users on board.
Reaching a ‘tipping point’
Both the German Forum Sustainable Palm Oil and the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil have said they are aiming to use CSPO from 2015 as well, although Daniel May, project director for the German initiative said that it may take longer.
He said: “Our goal is to significantly increase the amount of sustainable palm oil in the German, Austrian and Swiss markets and move to 100% sustainable as soon as possible.”
When asked to define ‘as soon as possible’, May said that, realistically, the organisation is expecting to reach this goal in around two to three years, around 2015 or 2016.
“As more members commit, the sooner we will get close to the tipping point,” he said.
In France, health concerns are on the agenda too
Head of the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, Guillaume Réveilhac, said: “In France, you have about 100 food companies that have RSPO certification but I think knowledge among these companies is still very low.”
He added that concerns about the health profile of palm oil needed to be addressed alongside sustainability issues in France in order to change public perception of the ingredient.
“Palm oil is already a substitute to animal fat and hydrogenated oils. In the past ten years, the industry has already made tremendous achievements and it is important to communicate that to consumers. Now it is absolutely time to get sustainability issues on board.”
Currently, about 15% of all palm oil produced globally is certified as sustainable under the RSPO’s standards. Those countries that have made national commitments have ramped up their use of CSPO – which increased from 21% of the Dutch market in 2011, for example, to 41% last year – but they admit there is a lot of work still to be done to hit their 2015 goals.