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Use sustainable palm oil or suffer consequences, warns WWF

By Jess Halliday , 28-Oct-2009
Last updated the 02-Nov-2009 at 13:21 GMT

Many manufacturers and retailers are not using sustainable palm oil as much as they should to stimulate supply and lead to long-term environmental benefits, says a damning report from the WWF.

Palm oil is used in many consumer food toiletries products, but its production has had a huge environmental impact South Asia, where forests have been cleared to make way for more plantations. The devastation has displaced both humans and animals that live in forest regions, and makes a big contribution to carbon emissions.

The multi-stakeholder Round table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to develop a palm oil industry that does not wreak such destruction, and the first shipment of certified sustainable palm oil arrived in Europe to fanfare last year.

In the last year, certified plantations have produced over a million tonnes of oil, of which 19 per cent (195,000 tonnes) have been sold. The remainder has entered mainstream palm oil supply channels, with no premium received to recompense the efforts of plantation workers and millers.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is warning that unless there is greater take up, the market will continue to be dominated by oil produced by environmentally-damaging practices.

The NGO has now graded 25 major users of palm oil in Europe, to see how much of the available sustainable palm oil they are using.

“The top scoring companies have shown what’s possible, with some buying fairly substantial quantities… but now it’s a question of whether the majority will follow,” Adam Harrison, WWF’s senior policy officer for food and agriculture.

“If they do, it will transform the market, giving producers the confidence to grow more sustainable palm oil. If they don’t, there will be grave consequences for the environment.”

The scorecard

The NGO looked at the palm oil sourcing of 59 European companies. Amongst those that scored between 0 and 16 out of a possible 29 points were Associated British Foods, Warburtons, Northern Foods, Jordans Ryvita, Premier Foods, and Britannia Food Ingredients, Croda International, and Reckitt Benckiser.

Low-scoring retailers included Aldi, Waitrose, Boots, Morrisons, Co-op and Tesco.

While no company achieved the maximum 29 points, amongst the highest scorers were Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Cadbury and Nestle.

The publication of the scorecard follows an announcement from Nestle this week that it will use only sustainable palm oil by 2015. UK retailer Marks and Spencer made a similar announcement, pledging to buy GreenCert certificates, which deliver compensation to the producers for quantities of sustainable oil even though the actual palm oil used is not certified.

But Harrison said that while actions in the right direction are welcome, “commitments are one thing, what’s needed now is action from all of them”.

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