The European Union (EU) announced its proposal for its Due Diligence system to rank countries from’high risk’ to ‘low risk’ in terms of deforestation earlier this month as part of its anti-deforestation regulations.
Many in the palm oil industry believe that this is a measure to target palm oil in particular amongst all other imported commodities, and have also deemed this a significant risk of developing into a new trade barrier with the EU, which is one of the world’s top importers.
The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) in particular has urged the EU to ensure that any final regulations that it decides on need to be ‘non-discriminatory against Indonesia and non-discriminatory against palm oil’, in addition to urging yet again that a level playing field for certification is provided such that palm oil receives the same treatment as other edible oils such as from rapeseed or soybean.
“Indonesia has already reduced its deforestation rate to its lowest-ever level thanks to legislative and private initiatives – palm oil is not a major contributor to Indonesian deforestation,” said the association.
In addition, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Indonesia has also stressed that attempting to just replace palm oil is not necessarily the best step to take to protect the environment, as the consequences could end up being worse instead.
“Palm oil is actually the most productive vegetable oil out there in the market, using far less area per MT than any other option,” RSPO Senior Manager for Global Community Outreach and Engagement based in Indonesia Imam A. El Marzuq said at a recent RSPO Indonesia virtual event to commemorate National Palm Oil Day in the country.
“To produce 1MT of palm oil, 0.26 hectares of land is needed – this is opposed to 1.25 hectares for rapeseed, 1.43 hectares for sunflower, or two hectares for soybean, which means [opting for] palm oil is opting for the most productive of all these options.
“Therefore although there are some bad actors in the industry who do burn forests [and the like], it is clear that switching away from palm oil is not the solution to the deforestation issue, as switching to crops that require even more land, possibly four to five times more, to produce the same amount of oil could create an even bigger problem in the end.”
Imam also highlighted that switching away from palm oil will create major issues in multiple industries, as the use of palm oil has become so widespread that it will be hard to eradicate.
“About half or 50% of all products that we use in daily life contain palm oil, not just in our food but also in cosmetics, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals and many more,” he said.
“Its reach is very wide [and to] minimise any feared impacts on the environment, the solution should really be for the companies in these industries to switch to using certified sustainable palm oil, which prioritises the prevention of environmental degradation and respects the rights of the workforce.”
Losing the bias
RSPO Director of Assurance and RSPO Indonesia Acting Director Tiur Rumondang added that several parties were painting palm oil in a poor light and worsening perceptions about the industry, but called for recognition of the sustainability efforts being made.
“Many palm oil companies such as our RSPO members are aware of the issues and have made commitments to sustainability, but these are not always acknowledged or fully supported [by dissenters],” she said.
This was seconded by RSPO Indonesia Outreach & Engagement Manager Margareth Naulie Panggabean who also called for palm oil importing countries and all industries using palm oil to increase certified sustainable palm oil uptake, or risk further faith in the industry being lost.
“We need to see greater commitment and uptake of sustainable palm oil, [especially] from the big four: India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, if we are to achieve our shared vision of making sustainable palm oil the norm,” she said.