Palm oil is the most commonly used vegetable oil worldwide, used in processed foods like margarine, ice cream and biscuits as a flavouring agent and texturiser, and in cosmetics and personal care products like soap and lipstick. It is also used for biofuels.
As demand for palm oil has increased, so have concerns about its sustainability. Where palm oil plantation areas have expanded in producing countries this has been at the expense of tropical rainforests. Labour relations and use of pesticides at plantations are also causing concern.
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil is a multistakeholder group formed in 2004 promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
So far a clutch of food manufacturers have given a date by which they will use only sustainable palm oil in their products. The Dutch announcement is the first time a whole country has made such a declaration covering the entire supply chain. The manifesto has been presented to the Dutch government.
The move was initiative by the Dutch Product Board for Margarine, Fats and Oils (MVO), which has motivated other trade groups through the supply chain to adopt standards.
In addition to the MVO, signatories are the Association of Dutch Margarine Manufacturers, the Dutch Food Retail Association, the Dutch Food Industry Federation, the Netherlands Feed Industry Association, the Dutch Edible Oils and Fats Association, the Dutch Potato Processing Industry Association, and the Dutch Bakery and Sweets Association.
They will all use one of the three RSPO-approved trading systems: ‘segregation’, whereby sustainable palm oil is kept apart throughout the entire supply chain from plantation to user; ‘mass balance’, where refineries ensure the volume of certified oil they sell is equal to that which they buy, but it does not need to be the exact same molecules; and ‘book and claim’, where users buy vouchers that cover the premium for the quantity of oil they use, but the oil they receive has not necessarily been sustainably produced.
Marieke Leegwater, manager sustainable production at MVO and chair of the RSPO Standing Committee on Trade and Traceability told FoodNavigator.com that it is a step-wise approach. Some of the Dutch participants have gone as far as to pledge use of only segregated oil by 2015, but for the task force as a whole ‘book and claim’ is the minimum requirement.
The MVO is now calling on other countries in Europe, North America and Asia to follow the example.
that it will take one player to initiate the process. In The Netherlands, it was MVO that encourage unified action.
“Before, players were looking at each other and passing the ball of responsibility up and down the supply chain. We said, let’s unite and all act together.”
The participants in the taskforce are said to represent “a significant share” of the Dutch palm oil market, but Leegwater believes it is unlikely any Dutch end users will continue to source unsustainable palm oil because The Netherlands is a major hub for the import and distribution of palm oil. In 2009 1.944m tonnes were imported, of which only 22 per cent was consumed domestically. This means that Dutch companies do not usually seek external sources.
The Dutch Task Force Sustainable Palm Oil manifesto is available in English here. http://www.taskforceduurzamepalmolie.nl/Portals/4/download/Manifesto_Task_Force_Sustainable_Palm_Oil.pdf