China, India and the US must make firm commitments to sourcing sustainable palm oil if any meaningful progress is to be made on tackling deforestation, according to one UK government minister.
Speaking at a biodiversity symposium in London this week, parliamentary under secretary for natural environment and fisheries Richard Benyon said that considerable progress had been made on sustainable sourcing initiatives in Europe.
However, he insisted similar commitments from China, India and the US were “missing”.
If the game was really going to change, Benyon said, the world's biggest users of palm oil had to commit to sourcing it more sustainably. To put this into context, the UK uses about 450,000t of palm oil a year, whereas India uses 650,000–750,000t a month.
"Only around 4% of the global supply is currently certified [as sustainably produced],”said Benyon. “So more needs to be done, and done quicker.”
His comments came as the government launched two new projects into sustainable palm oil.
The first – which the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is co-financing with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce – will explore ways of encouraging sustainable sourcing in China, the world’s largest consumer of palm oil.
The second will document how much palm oil used in the UK is sustainably sourced and how this percentage could be increased, with initial findings to be published next year.
Sustainable palm sourcing
While fully traceable, certified sustainable palm oil is now available from firms such as AAK, Loders Croklaan and New Britain Palm Oil, most food manufacturers use more complex palm derivatives or blends, which are not yet available in a certified sustainable form, AAK marketing boss Judith Murdoch told FoodManufacture.co.uk in May.
“This is really what we’re focusing on now. We have certified sustainable olein and stearin [palm oil fractions] available already, but because customers need to get their houses in order in terms of RSPO [Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil] audits and so on before they can use these products, we’re looking at the end of the year before some of them will take deliveries.”
While straight refined palm oil can be used in biscuit dough and some other food products, 60–70% of palm oil is sold as derivatives.
However, firms using complex derivatives can still contribute to sustainable production by buying GreenPalm certificates (trading at www.greenpalm.org at around $15) guaranteeing that a tonnage of oil/derivatives equivalent to the tonnage they use has been produced from sustainable sources (approved plantations are allocated one certificate for every tonne produced.)
The palm oil trade was the single greatest cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia and a key driver of greenhouse gas emissions, claimed Benyon.
Indeed, the environmental cost of palm oil production could “threaten our very future” unless urgent action was taken to increase sustainable production, he added.