Palm Oil – what’s in your cupboard?

Is Palm Oil sustainable?

Palm oil producers are criticised for their environmental records, but what’s the real story?

Palm oil producers, suppliers and manufacturers have been accused by conservationists of causing widescale environmental and humanitarian damage through clearing tropical forests to grow palm oil.

In response, a consortium of non-governmental organisations and palm oil producers formed the RSPO (Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil) to promote sustainable palm oil production.

Since it’s formation however, the RSPO has been under fire from environmental groups for lack of accountability and, as most of it’s members come from within the industry, of being in sympathy with them.

The RSPO points out that it is a voluntary organisation, with limited ability to sanction members and, when it has rebuked stakeholders in the past, they have threatened to bypass the RSPO altogether. Despite it’s failings, the RSPO is currently the only regulatory body for palm oil production.

Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth agree palm oil production is both unsustainable and environmentally damaging and the RSPO has been accused of ‘Greenwashing’ by giving palm oil producers sustainability certification, without independent checks.

Reports from humanitarian organisations of illegal land grabs, military intervention when indigenous people protest, or empty promises from governments, leave multi-national companies to choose whether to boycott palm oil in their products, or encourage sustainable production.

Palm oil is found in many foods and household products, such as bread, margarine, cereals, beauty products and many supermarket own brands.  It is listed in product ingredients as: Elaeis Guineensis, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol amongst others.

The EU enacted a law in 2014 requiring food manufacturers to explicitly state whether palm oil is used in a product, leaving the choice to consumers whether to buy it or not.

Article written for Sam Horsey’s NCTJ journalism exams