The announcement, in the form of the government’s national statement on palm oil, comes as the International Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil annual conference is taking place in Singapore.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are used in the food industry as frying fats and as ingredients in a wide range of foods such as biscuits, margarine, snacks and bakery products. They are also used in the production of biodiesel, in animal feed, and soaps and other cleaning products and cosmetics.
Historically, production has been linked to the destruction of the rainforest habitats of wildlife including orangutans in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Environment minister Richard Benyon pledged today that by the end of 2015 all palm oil used in central government food and catering services would come from environmentally friendly sources.
“People want to know that the products they are using are not contributing to deforestation and climate change and many UK businesses are already starting to make changes,” said Benyon.
“Producers, manufacturers and charities will continue working together to speed up the move to 100% sustainable palm oil in everyday products.”
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said many leading food and drink manufacturers were active members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and had made substantial progress towards their aim of using only certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) bought via RSPO-approved trading systems.
FDF director of sustainability, Andrew Kuyk said: “Many food and drink manufacturers have in place long-standing commitments to using 100% certified sustainable palm oil and the national statement is an important step towards a wider reassurance for consumers that the products they enjoy contain oil from environmentally friendly sources.”
However, while the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the government deserved praise for putting the issue on the agenda, it added compromises requested by other business sectors had left its statement “weak”.
BRC director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said if the government was serious about achieving comprehensive change in the way palm oil is produced, it should be pushing other sectors to follow retailers’ lead.
It said in a statement that other sectors should “commit to nothing less than the RSPO's exacting standard for sustainable palm oil”.
It added: “The BRC and its members believe it is the only credible certification scheme because it is wide ranging, covering the legal, economic, environmental and social aspects of palm oil production.”
It also called on this to be achieved in a specific time frame, adding “retailers have pledged to use only RSPO certified sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015 while the government's statement does not set a target date for reaching 100% sustainability”.
The charity WWF-UK said that the move was significant but that it needed to go further, given the urgency of the situation.