Tag

palm oil

Food & Drink

Palm oil – it’s time to tackle this problem ingredient

problem with palm oil

In the western world, we’re addicted to palm oil.  It’s everywhere – in cleaning products, cosmetics and in many snack foods: from biscuits and bread; to chocolate and spreads.  It’s missed off ingredient lists in cosmetics and hidden under pseudonyms in food, but its use is ubiquitous.

Why do we use it?  Because it’s useful, cheap, high-yielding, and versatile.  The problem: palm oil is the biggest contributor to rainforest destruction.  Its production destroys unique habitats and contributes to climate change.

Tim Hunt, from Ethical Consumer magazine, explores the complex issues with palm oil and how consumers can bring about change where governments and campaigners have failed.

The problem with palm oil

Our addiction to palm oil lies within the plant itself.  With its oily flesh and nut, the palm oil fruit produces a vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature.  This saturated fat is the perfect alternative to more expensive and labour-intensive animal fats and per hectare: it generates higher yields than many other vegetable oils.  Simply put, it is cheap, plentiful and it does a job perfectly.

But like all apparent panaceas, it has a dark side.

At Ethical Consumer we’ve been tracking the palm oil issue for over 20 years and we’ve just released our latest report.

Despite huge campaigns from Greenpeace and WWF, the start of certification schemes like Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the involvement of multiple governments and the World Bank, our report highlights that deforestation due to palm oil production is actually getting worse, not better.

In fact, a football pitch sized patch of virgin rainforest is cleared every 25 seconds to make way for palm oil plantations and production is increasing to meet the demands of a growing world population.

Over recent years ‘sustainable palm oil’ and RSPO-certified labels have popped up all over food packaging so you might think that the problem has been solved.  Not so.  Most major snack brands – even with these labels – still have palm oil from deforestation areas in their supply chain.  Just last month Nestle was suspended from the RSPO for failing to file progress reports towards sustainable targets.  In March this year, Greenpeace conducted a report into palm oil production and came up against enormous resistance from brands to disclose their palm oil sources, indicating deeper issues.

problem with palm oil

So, what can we do?

In the west, we are major stakeholders in snack food companies.  We drive their profits through our purchasing decisions so we can apply pressure.

At Ethical Consumer, we advise avoiding palm oil altogether, wherever possible, or buying only from those companies who have a firm commitment to ending deforestation in their supply chain.  We’ve released four new product guides looking at palm oil use in more detail and we recommend the following brands.  Click on the titles to see the full guides.

Butters and spreads
We recommend Biona, M&S and Yeo Valley who offer palm oil free spreads.  Suma and Waitrose brands are actively reducing their use and working to use only deforestation-free supplies.

Chocolate
Although chocolate itself is palm oil free, the sweet fillings often aren’t.  We recommend Pacari, Chocolat Madagascar and Divine who are not only palm oil free but Fair Trade too.

Biscuits
Sustainable palm oil use is being taken seriously by biscuit brands.  There are many brands that are taking an active stance to reduce their usage and shake up the supply chain.  We love Island Bakery whose biscuits are organic and palm oil free.  We also recommend Against the Grain, Doves Farm and Traidcraft brands.

Bread
Although only used in small amounts many bread brands do use palm oil.  For supermarket own brands, Waitrose and M&S are showing real commitment to sustainable policies.  For a branded loaf, choose Biona, Warburtons, Weight Watchers or Jackson’s.

Want to do more?

Take a look at the red category companies in our reports, avoid their products and get in touch to tell them what you think.

Join campaign and boycotts led by Greenpeace and Sum of Us to force big brands to think differently.

Food & Drink, Winter

Where to Buy Palm Oil Free Mince Pies This Christmas

palm oil free christmas food

palm oil free christmas food

Crumbly pastry that melts in the mouth, juicy berries with a hint of spice, the tang of brandy.  Served hot and drizzled with cream, nothing quite says Christmas like a mince pie.  This seemingly simple festive snack is available in every supermarket, but it has a complex journey involving many people, businesses and resources.  But it’s a one ingredient – palm oil – which links this humble pie to deforestation, human rights abuses and climate change.

Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer looks into the issues behind palm oil production and shares her top five palm oil free mince pies.

The problem with palm oil

Palm oil is found in around half of all packaged foods and in many other household items, from cleaners to cosmetics.  It is cheap, widely available and solid at room temperature, making it an appealing fat for manufacturers to use.

In mince pies, palm oil is found in the vegetable suet used to make the mincemeat.  It gives the juicy filling the firm and creamy texture that we all love.  But, there is a bitter and unpleasant story behind this popular ingredient.

Over 90% of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, across 16 million acres of land.  As plantations grow to meet demand, they claim rainforest, razing them to gain valuable farmland.  In fact, palm oil plantations are one of the leading causes of deforestation, forcing indigenous people from their homes and threatening endangered species living in these diverse ecosystems.

As rainforests are cleared, carbon dioxide is released.  In fact, deforestation accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and is a major contributor to global warming.

This in particularly pronounced in Indonesia, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates that 98% of Indonesia’s rainforests may be gone in the next four years.

As well as the clear issues involved in deforestation, palm oil production is riddled with supply chain management issues.  There are an estimated 3.5 million workers employed on Indonesian and Malaysian plantations where child labour and modern-day slavery still occur.

What about sustainable palm oil?

Many products now state that they contain sustainable palm oil.  Whilst this seems to be a good thing, the reality is more complicated.

Certification groups, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have been criticised for not going far enough to ensure that members are acting responsibly and there are RSPO members who have been exposed as having environmental abuses and human rights issues in their palm oil supply chains.  So, where products seem to contain sustainable palm oil that is not linked to deforestation, this might not actually be the case.  Action groups such as Sum of Us, are campaigning for RSPO to vote to adopt a no deforestation, no peatland, no exploitation certification system.

palm oil free mince pies

Picking the perfect palm oil free mince pie

Whilst campaigners continue to put pressure on the palm oil industry to clean up its act, we recommend avoiding this problem ingredient for now.  Happily, when it comes to mince pies, we have found a great palm oil free selection.  Check out of our top five palm oil free mince pies:

Waitrose Duchy Organic Mince Pies

Organic and made with sunflower oil instead of palm oil, these pies come in 100% recyclable packaging and are priced at £2.50 for four. Available from Waitrose online and in store.

Marks & Spencer Mini Mince Pie Selection

Perfect for parties, these mini versions of a classic come in three varieties.  They contain rapeseed oil and are suitable for vegetarians, and cost £16.00 for 36.  Available from Marks & Spencer online and in store.

Authentic Bread Company Luxury Mince Pies with All Butter Pastry

These handmade mince pies are equally at home on the dinner table as they are beside a cup of tea.  Beautifully finished, they are made with sunflower oil and are available through organic retailer Abel & Cole at £5.39 for a pack of six.

The Organic Collection Organic Mince Pies

These pies contain no additional fats in the mincemeat, only fruity fillings.  They are available through ethical online retailers Real Foodspriced at £5.95 for six pies.

Artisan Bread Organic Mince Pies

Organic, vegan and gluten-free, these mince pies tick all the boxes.  They contain no added sugar and are made with cold-pressed olive oil in place of palm oil.  Available online at Artisan Bread Organicat £5.25 for a pack of six.

For more information on palm oil, check out our full special report.  And to learn how to avoid palm oil in your Christmas shop, see our guide to a palm oil free Christmas.