Dropping palm oil is not the answer: Europe’s food manufactures and retailers need to choose certified sustainable palm oil instead

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Today the palm oil industry has made a bold call on all food manufacturers and retailers in Europe to take up the challenge and act on their choice for certified, sustainable palm oil (CSPO). Why is this important and why now? Because time is running out to protect our rainforest and its vulnerable biodiversity.

This is why we are calling on all of those serious about certified sustainable palm oil to speak up for it. And on those European manufacturers and retailers who haven’t yet made the switch to CSPO start showing their commitment by buying and using sustainable oils, and doing it today.

Our ambition is to achieve 100% CSPO in European food manufacturing by next year (2020). While this requires effort, it is entirely feasible: today, 74% of the palm oil used in European food is certified sustainable and palm oil producers and refiners are ready to supply the necessary certified sustainable palm oil to their customers.

But acceptance and adoption of sustainable palm oil faces challenges at both ends of the manufacturing sector. Because of the widespread targeting of palm oil by certain interests, its negative market image means that smaller companies are often reluctant to embrace even certified sustainable palm oil.

Often they are following the lead of some of the bigger companies that are already fully certified and are starting to move away from palm oil altogether, as we have witnessed in recent retailer announcements.

But this rejectionism is the wrong move. It goes against the stance of some of the most active and vocal environmental protection NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace and the Orangutan Land Trust, none of whom supports a ban on palm oil.

Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, says that a blanket ban on palm oil is “a position we categorically do not share.” As someone who has been working as a conservationist for over 25 years with a specific focus on protecting orangutans in their own habitat, she is “personally committed to supporting and promoting 100% sustainable palm oil in Europe.”

Why? Because, as these groups maintain, the solution is not to reject palm oil, but to reject non-sustainable palm oil in favour of CSPO. By choosing CSPO, manufacturers and retailers are making the choice that will further embed the implementation of strong international standards of sustainable production practices. Retailers and manufacturers have real power to effect real change. And they have a responsibility to do so. It’s simply a question of demand driving supply.

If we’re serious about this then the entire industry needs to act. We can’t reach 100% certified sustainable palm oil in European food production just by signing commitments and making statements – companies have to make conscious decisions and really take action. The European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) strongly believes that 100% CSPO in European Food in 2020 is still possible. We need to act together and now!

We have to empower people to make a deliberate choice for CSPO, we can help create market acceptance by telling honest stories about the positive impact of sustainable production on the ground.

That is why the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), together with other industry associations, stakeholder companies, and civil society bodies, has issued a call to action for all European stakeholders to actively support the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice initiative [www.sustainablepalmoilchoice.eu] The initiative seeks to increase market acceptance for CSPO by engaging stakeholders who are already committed to it to speak up for CSPO and inspire others not only to choose and use it, but also to advocate for it.

Making the choice for sustainable palm oil across Europe helps safeguard rain forests and biodiversity across the world. Choosing palm oil that is produced sustainability will also drive current efforts to implement the high standards that will enable smallholders to produce CSPO by progressively and continually improving their farming methods. This will protect smallholders, uplift their earning potential, and help create fair and socioeconomic conditions for growers and workers active across the global palm oil supply chain.

We have a good and strong story to tell on sustainable palm oil. If European food manufacturers and retailers want to be truly sustainable, there is only one choice, and that choice is certified, sustainable palm oil. They should buy it, use it, and publicly support it. Together we can make this happen.

Companies and organisations wishing to join the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice initiative can do so at www.sustainablepalmoilchoice.eu. Frans Claassen is Chair of the European Palm Oil Alliance.

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