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Iceland’s palm oil ban attracts support and criticism

Frozen food specialist Iceland has announced that it will stop using palm oil in all its own label food by the end of the year. The ingredient has already been removed from 50% of the range, with 100 new palm oil free lines rolled out.

“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil’,” said Richard Walker, the supermarket’s managing director. “We don’t believe there is such a thing as verifiably ‘sustainable’ palm oil available in the mass market.”

However, the Roundtable on Responsible Palm Oil (RSPO), which certifies sustainable palm oil, said the alternatives could be worse. Indeed, a report by WWF Germany in 2016 concluded that replacing palm oil with rapeseed, sunflower, coconut and soya oil would require “five times as much cropland”.

RSPO CEO Darrel Webber said that “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 four to ten 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.”

Webber also warned that removing palm oil could be detrimental to the taste and texture of products. “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.”

A report by Greenpeace, published last month, showed that a number of the world’s largest food companies were failing to remove palm oil linked to deforestation from their supply chains.

In all, 16 firms were surveyed. General Mills, Mars, Mondelēz, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and ColgatePalmolive disclosed the mills that produced their palm oil and the names of the producer groups that controlled them. However, Ferrero, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, PZ Cussons and Smucker’s refused to.

Greenpeace found that none were sourcing 100% “clean” palm oil. The report warned: “Palm oil is a high-risk commodity. Palm oil traders (typically corporations that also have plantation interests) continue to allow oil from rainforest destroyers into their mills, refineries and distribution systems, and neither governments nor the main industry body – the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – can currently be relied on to prevent producers from engaging in deforestation or clearing peatland.”