Iceland becomes the first UK retailer to cut palm oil from own-brand range

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock
©iStock
Frozen food firm Iceland is set to become the first UK supermarket to eliminate the use of palm oil from its own brand products in efforts to minimise the negative impact of its cultivation.

The retailers revealed immediate plans to remove the ingredient from half of the food from its own-label products.

By the end of the year, Iceland said it would reformulate 130 food products to remove palm oil across its 900 stores reducing its demand by more than 500 tonnes per year.

"Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying 'no to palm oil',”​ said Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker.

“We don't believe there is such a thing as 'sustainable' palm oil available to retailers, so we are giving consumers a choice about what they buy."

Iceland said it would replace palm oil with oils and fats that “do not destroy the rainforest”​, adding its work with suppliers would ensure recipe changes did not impact product cost or taste.

Products subject to this treatment would display a 'no palm oil' sticker on its packaging.

The palm oil price

Palm oil is one of the world's biggest causes of deforestation and poses a significant threat to a number of species already facing extinction.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation, many species are being threatened with extinction, including the orang-utan.

The orang-utan population has more than halved in the last 15 years and is now critically endangered with only 70,000 to 100,000 individuals remaining.

Whist’s Iceland’s move was met with approval on social media channels, The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s largest palm oil certification scheme, said it did not agree with the solutions Iceland were adopting.

“We fully share Iceland’s concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil, ​said Darrel Webber, RSPO’s CEO.

“Before getting rid of palm oil, we should ask ourselves, what is the impact of the alternatives? We should let consumers know that palm trees produce 4 to 10 times more oil per hectare than any other oil crop.

“What if we were to discover that palm oil is replaced by butter from cows fed with unsustainable soy grown at the expense of Amazon forest instead?”

Webber argued that eliminating palm oil production might lead to the use of more land with higher risks of deforestation.

“If Iceland want to guarantee that their oils and fats sourcing is not causing rainforest destruction, they should work with the rest of the supply chain to promote the use of sustainable standards, such as RSPO, with a view to improve the sustainability of the entire market,” ​he added.

Palm oil replacement issues

Webber’s comments mirror those outlined in a 2016 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report​ that stated, “The one-to-one substitution of palm oil with other tropical plant oils would not meet the desired objectives.

“Soya and coconut oil grow in similar or ecologically similarly sensitive regions, and therefore the replacement of one oil for another would not solve the problem but only shift it elsewhere and, in part, even exacerbate it.

“More land would be required, more greenhouse gas emissions would be generated, and more species would be endangered.”

Iceland’s move away from palm oil use now puts the pressure on other UK supermarkets to follow suit and say no to the damaging effects of palm oil production on the environment.

Sainsbury’s acknowledged that some of its products contained palm oil, with over 98% of its own brand products certified sustainable in 2016.

Meanwhile Tesco also referred to a 99% RSPO certification of its UK products with plans in place to ensure the final remaining 1% transitions to a physical supply chain of certified sustainable palm.

“This is predominantly within our non-food products range where physical supply chains for complex derivatives continue to be more challenging to establish,” ​it said.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said “Iceland has concluded that removing palm oil is the only way it can offer its customers a guarantee that its products do not contain palm oil from forest destruction. This decision is a direct response to the palm oil industry’s failure to clean up its act.

“As global temperatures rise from burning forests, and populations of endangered species continue to dwindle, companies using agricultural commodities like palm oil will come under increasing pressure to clean up their supply chains.

"Many of the biggest consumer companies in the world have promised to end their role in deforestation by 2020. Time is running out not just for these household brands but for the wildlife, the climate and everyone who depends on healthy forests for their survival.”

Related topics: Business, Sustainability, Fats & oils

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Edible Oil Oxidation Monitoring with the microESR

Edible Oil Oxidation Monitoring with the microESR

Bruker BioSpin | 04-Jul-2018 | Application Note

Rancidity of vegetable oils occurs during storage and is caused by oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids, resulting in foul odors and tastes in the product....

Does Europe Want to Ban Palm Oil?

Does Europe Want to Ban Palm Oil?

The Oil Palm | 12-Feb-2018 | Business Advice

The European Parliament has voted to ban Palm Oil biofuels under the Renewable Energy Directive. There is one key question the Council of the European...

Product Recovery (Pigging) for Food Manufacturers

Product Recovery (Pigging) for Food Manufacturers

HPS Product Recovery Solutions | 31-Jan-2018 | Technical / White Paper

Hygienic product recovery ("pigging") is in wide use by food manufacturers that pump liquids or wet products. It gives a high ROI and quick payback.

Related suppliers

1 comment

Banning palm oil is not the solution - sustainable palm oil is!

Posted by Margot Logman,

In view of the numerous and impressive achievements on sustainable palm oil throughout the supply chain, EPOA is surprised to learn about the initiative by the UK retailer ‘Iceland’ to remove palm oil from their privately owned brands. The signal provided by ‘Iceland’ to ban palm oil is counterproductive to the overall market conversion towards more sustainable palm oil.

The European palm oil alliance (EPOA), involving palm oil growers and refiners committed to 100% sustainable palm oil by 2020 in Europe, would like to emphasize that we share concerns on deforestation and biodiversity. Not only do we share the concerns, we have also worked tirelessly to create and implement the change towards sustainable palm oil production and uptake in Europe throughout the food supply chain. In 2016 69% of palm oil imported for food into European refineries was certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). And 60% of the palm oil used for food in Europe was estimated to be CSPO, with almost all palm oil entering the UK being sustainably produced.

A ban will raise other environmentally devastating issues through its alternatives. In fact according to a 2016 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report, replacing palm oil with other fats and oils is shifting the problem and may even make it worse. WWF, Conservation international, Greenpeace and other NGOs have all publicly stated that “banning palm oil is no solution”. Firstly, any alternative vegetable oil would require more land to produce. And secondly, moving away from palm oil will make current palm oil growers lose the incentive to create the change that is needed on the ground to help preserve the rainforest and protect species that are on the brink of extinction.

Iceland should, instead of banning palm oil, be working with the rest of the supply chain on its sustainability standards to ensure the use of robust and continuously improving agricultural practices. As indicated by Stefano Savi, Global Outreach & Engagement Director from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in their media response:

“We fully share Iceland’s concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil, but we do not agree with the solutions they are adopting. Before getting rid of palm oil, we should ask ourselves: what is the impact of the alternatives? We should let consumers know that palm trees produce 4 to 10 times more oil per hectare than any other oil crop. Therefore eliminating palm oil might lead to the use of more land with higher risks of deforestation. What if we were to discover that palm oil is replaced by butter from cows fed with unsustainable soy grown at the expense of Amazon forest instead? If Iceland want to guarantee that their oils and fats sourcing is not causing rainforest destruction, they should work with the rest of the supply chain to promote the use of sustainable standards, such as RSPO, with a view to improve the sustainability of the entire market”.


At EPOA we believe that in the face of environmental or social problems related to palm oil, we should cooperate throughout the supply chain to solve those problems, keeping in mind the bigger picture. Currently 2.3% of global deforestation is linked to palm oil production. Through numerous industry commitments the food industry in Europe has started to work together in different initiatives to improve sustainability of all agro commodities and halt deforestation of primary forests.

Simply banning palm oil is providing the wrong signal. If Iceland would like to guarantee their consumers that there is no link to deforestation, we invite them to work together to make sustainable palm oil a reality and effectively halting deforestation related to palm oil. Not move away.

Banning palm oil is not the solution. Sustainable palm oil is.

For full response including links, see: https://www.palmoilandfood.eu/en/news/banning-palm-oil-not-solution-sustainable-palm-oil-epoa-response-%E2%80%98iceland%E2%80%99s-ban-palm-oil

Best wishes,
Margot Logman

Secretary General
European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA)
E: logman@palmoilalliance.eu
T: 0031-6-83690384
W: www.palmoilandfood.eu

Report abuse

Follow us

Featured Events

View more

Products

View more

Webinars