Removing palm oil from foods gives wrong signal

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Palm oil Saturated fat Nutrition

Removing palm oil from foods gives wrong signal
Groupe Casino’s plan to remove palm oil from its own brand food products for environmental and health reasons are misguided, according to a RSPO representative.

The French supermarket announced earlier this month that it is phasing out use of palm oil in foods, and switching to certified sustainable palm oil for personal care products. The commitment means almost 600 food products will be reformulated over the next 5 years.

The chain said the move is motivated by the high levels of saturated fat in palm oil, which has been linked to elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk. There are also serious concerns about the supply chain which the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been working to address for the last few years: intensive plantations have led to deforestation in parts of Asia, destroying wildlife habitats and biodiversity.

Marc den Hartog, executive RSPO board member and IOI sales and marketing director, told that the move “has given the wrong signal”.

He said people should aim for balanced nutrition, and palm oil can contribute to that. For example, it can be used in products where polyunsaturated fatty acids are also used.

“It is important to look at the final product,”​ he said.

Moreover, taking out palm oil because of saturated fat, they should really look at other high sat fat ingredients, like milk fat and cocoa fat. “It’s a bit selective​,” he said.

On the environmental side, too, the move sends the wrong signal by simply walking away from the issue of feeding a growing global population.

Importantly, palm plantations already give a 5 to 10 times higher yield per hectare than other oilseed plantations, and sustainably managed plantations can increase this another 1.5 times.

“Using land more effectively can help avoid issues like deforestation,” ​den Hartog said.

Sustainability progress

The first supplies of segregated sustainable palm oil opening up for Europe this year, and the RSPO has reported considerable take up of Book & Claim and Mass Balance oil.

In March 2010, a record 136,000 tonnes of sustainable palm oil (or corresponding certificates) were purchased from palm oil producers – exceeding the 26,000 tonnes actually produced that month. Manufacturers can buy GreenPalm certifcates equivalent to the palm oil volumes they are using, but the actual oil they receive is not segregated sustainable.

More than 1.8 million tonnes of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil have been produced since 2008, and almost 0.7 million tonnes have been purchased by traders, consumer good manufacturers and retailers.

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