‘Ethical’ Easter eggs? Check the palm oil content

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Three leading European chocolate companies have come bottom of an environmental impact ranking of candy Easter eggs based on their palm oil content, a new survey shows.

The charity Rainforest Foundation UK and the British magazine Ethical Consumer assigned more than 70 types of candy Easter eggs an “ethical score” from one to 20 based on whether their company used palm oil, makes substantial policy statements, and are a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“This was an opportune time to bring to public awareness that there are choices in this time in particular that they could be making that could have a significant environmental impact,” Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, told EURACTIV.

The ranking is a response to the threat that unsustainable palm oil production poses to rainforests, their wildlife and the people who depend on the forests.

Huge areas of rainforest have been cleared in Indonesia, Central Africa and other areas to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used as a source of biofuel as well as in foods.

The World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that Indonesia lost more than 40% of its rainforests from 1950 to 2000 and that the pace of clearing was growing. However, the government has taken steps to restrict palm oil production to land currently under cultivation.

Current EU rules allow companies to label palm oil as vegetable oil, but proposed changes to the European Food Information regulations will require companies to label the specific oil that they use, including palm, the daily Guardian reported on Monday (25 March).

A number of companies have already begun implementing the changes.

‘Ethical choices’

With chocolate eggs a traditional Easter-time gift, the organisations hope that they can persuade consumers to opt for the more ‘ethical’ choices.

UK-based Divine Chocolate, which works in partnership with the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa growers’ collective, and Booja Booja, an organic confectionary group, came top of the ranking, with a full rating of 20.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, received a middling ranking of 10.

Lindt & Sprüngli, Guylian and Thorntons – three popular brands – were at the bottom of the ranking.

The Rainforest Foundation UK is putting together a database of palm oil content in all of Britain’s chocolate, which they intend to publish on the website by the end of the year. They plan to expand the database to all food products containing palm, including biscuits, cakes, and certain ready-meals, with the aim of raising consumer awareness of the environmental and social consequences of unsustainable palm oil. A number of other products, including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals use palm oil.

“Everyone needs to play their part in putting this problem behind us”, Counsell said.

Sandra Seebolt, a policy advisor at Oxfam and co-chair of the RSPO smallholders working group, said in emailed comments: Oxfam welcomes the ranking of ethical consumer magazine and RFUK to encourage consumers to buy the best-rated products, forcing those companies that are not taking their environmental and social responsibilities seriously to use more sustainably sourced palm oil. RSPO certified palm oil is a good step towards a more sustainable palm oil sector. Especially when brands and retailers source segregated palm oil, subsequently creating a more stable market for sustainable palm oil.

"Palm oil not only often causes deforestation and environmental problems, but also is responsible for many social problems in production countries, such as land conflicts, exploitation of laborers and pesticide related health issues. Palm oil is used not only as ingredient for food or cosmetics, but increasingly also for biofuels, which means the demand is rapidly increasing. It is good thing that this ranking allows consumers to choose for products that include sustainable palm oil.

"However it is also good to realise that certification should not be a goal in itself, but should be considered  a way for companies to change their policies and practices towards a more sustainable future, in which corporate social responsibility is core business and not part of a certification scheme."

  • 13 December 2014: New EU law on food information to consumers comes into force
  • 13 December 2016: Companies obliged to provide nutrition information on packaging

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