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UK misses 100% sustainable palm oil target

By David Burrows , 15-Feb-2017
Last updated on 15-Feb-2017 at 14:11 GMT2017-02-15T14:11:47Z

© iStock
© iStock

The UK failed to achieve a commitment to source 100% sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015, according to new data published by the government.

The volume of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) almost tripled between 2009 and 2015, from 155,000 metric tonnes (mt) to 457,294 mt. Of this, 326,033 mt were segregated and mass balanced CSPO, whilst GreenPalm certificates accounted for 131,261 mt.

“As an indicator of UK support for CSPO through RSPO supply chain models this shows a rise of nearly 302,294 mt since 2009,” notes the annual review published (though not publicised) by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) this month.

How these volumes relate to total purchases depends on the source of the data. Using Oil World figures, 87% of UK palm oil imports – excluding imported finished goods – was supported by RSPO certification in 2015. However, FEDIOL data puts the figure at 108%.

Hit or miss?

Opinion is split on which is more accurate, but a Defra statement sent to FoodNavigator suggested the target has not been met. “The UK has led the move towards sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil, and through our close work with businesses, trade associations and NGOs, we have made substantial progress towards our ambition,” she told FoodNavigator. 

Industry statements published alongside the review show that food manufacturers have pulled their weight. When the target was set in 2012 only a handful of food and drink manufacturers had achieved 100% sourcing of CSPO. By the end of 2015, “more than 93% of manufacturers that use palm oil bought 100% CSPO and this accounted for nearly all of the total volume bought by the sector”, the Food and Drink Federation noted.

Retailers representing around 80% of the sector also managed 100% sourcing of CSPO. However, foodservice management firms reached just 67%, according to the British Hospitality Association. The government’s own performance is also unclear: central departments had a target to source only CSPO by the end of 2015 but the Defra spokeswoman would not say whether this has been achieved.

Data compiled by WWF has also indicated that manufacturers and retailers are “way head” of their counterparts in foodservice when it comes to sustainable sourcing of commodities like palm oil. There is no excuse for any company using palm oil not to be already using 100% certified sustainable palm oil today,” said the charity’s agricultural commodities manager Emma Keller.

Cooling of commitments

Keller said the latest results are “very positive”. However, the commitment is far from perfect, she explained, given that it excludes other important volumes of palm oil. “Now is not the time to slow the momentum on this and risk companies falling back on their individual pledges,” she told FoodNavigator. “We would like to Defra to continue with this target and broaden it to include palm oil derivatives and palm oil in imported finished products.”

The government also needs to look beyond palm oil with commitments on other key deforestation commodities like soy and beef, Keller said. Many other European countries look to the UK for leadership and this is an opportunity to maintain this and bring others with us, particularly in a post-Brexit world,” she added.

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