Palm oil groups aim to ship sustainability to Europe

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Palm oil

The palm oil industry is claiming a major triumph in terms of sustainability ahead of an incoming shipment of the product to Europe next week, which is seen by some as a milestone for ethical sourcing.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body combining suppliers of the vegetable-based product and food manufacturers says that on 11 November, the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands will receive the world's first shipment of 'RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil'.

According to the group, in 2007 global output for the product stood at 38m tones, making it one of the world’s most important sources of vegetable oil for use in the manufacture of packaged goods and dairy products.

Palm oil, used in a diverse range of food formulations including bread and crisps, is enjoying strong appeal from food makers as they turn away from trans fats.

However, this popularity has led to some concerns about the environmental affects on key supply areas like Indonesian rainforest.

In an attempt to offset these concerns amongst a drive among many manufacturers for more sustainable operations, the RSPO claims it has worked with all its members to find new solutions to source palm oil.

“The roundtable promotes production practices that help reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity, and respect the livelihoods of rural communities in palm oil-producing countries,”​ the group stated.

RSPO certification

Jan Kees Vis, who serves as both president of the roundtable group and sustainability director at Unilever, said that under RSPO principles, no primary rainforest or high conservation value areas have been sacrificed since November 2005 to obtain palm oil.

The scheme also aims to provide support for plantation workers and indigenous peoples.

According to RSPO estimates, about half of the world’s palm oil suppliers are signed up to the principles, with more expected to join in the future.

“The first sustainable oil palm plantations and mills have recently been certified and have begun to churn out RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil,”​ stated the group. “While initial volumes will be relatively small, supply will gradually increase over the coming years.”

NGO concern

Despite these claims, environmental campaigners argue that rising demand for this popular oil, the primary exporter for which is Indonesia, is leading to deforestation, which destroys habitats for animals such as the orang-utan, as well as contributing to the rise in carbon emissions.

Last year, environmental group Greenpeace revealed that the level of deforestation being caused in part by palm oil was so great that it merited inclusion in the 2008 Guinness World Records.

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