No palm oil is no solution – sustainable palm oil is

Moving towards sustainable palm oil in Europe creates an incentive to make the global palm oil supply more sustainable. NGOs like Greenpeace and Conservation International support the sourcing of credible, sustainable palm oil and the goal to achieve 100% sustainable palm oil in Europe.

Palm oil plays an important role in creating sustainable food. Replacing palm oil with other fats or oils is no solution to tackle environmental or health issues and negatively impacts food product properties.

These were the two key outcomes during the 2016 edition of the European Palm Oil Conference, a two day event held in Warsaw (Poland) and hosted by the European Palm Oil Alliance.

Frans Claassen, chair of EPOA says: “The European Palm Oil Industry is very much committed to sustainable palm oil. More awareness and public support from the food industry, retail, governments, politicians and NGOs for sustainable palm oil initiatives of the industry is needed to truly improve sustainability in the palm oil supply chain.”

No Palm Oil is No Solution
Participants at EPOC underlined the WWF Germany statement that “Switching from palm oil to other oils is no solution to tackle environmental degradation caused by unsustainable palm oil production.” WWF is clear that the only sustainable alternative to palm oil is credibly certified sustainable palm oil. Using other oils or fats is often worse for the environment: they need more land and so can drive even more loss of valuable habitats for wildlife like forests, savannahs and grasslands.

Annisa Rahmawati from Greenpeace stated that “boycotting does not solve the problem. Palm oil can and must be produced in a responsible way and not linked to destruction of forests and peatlands as well as social conflicts. The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) is the premium standard and our journey towards deforestation free palm oil”. However, Greenpeace stresses “that there are still many things need to be done to deliver progress on the ground. That is why industry wide action to tackle deforestation is needed, especially excluding non-responsible business practices.

During the conference on 5 and 6 October 2016, about 200 scientists, food manufacturers, nutritionists, NGO’s and policy-makers gathered in Warsaw for the yearly European Palm Oil Conference (EPOC). Conference speakers included scientists Prof. Dr. Ingeborg Brouwer, Prof. Dr. Ivonne Rietjens, Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury and Prof. Dr. Sebastiano Banni and representatives from WWF Poland, Greenpeace, Conservation International, Solidaridad and the Consumer Goods Forum.

In interactive work-shops delegates could compare the texture and taste of products with and without palm oil and experience the technical properties of the oil.

Gerrit van Duijn, chair Benelux Lipid Network explains: “There are currently no alternative oils or fats that can replace the volumes of palm oil used as a solid fat in food. Alternative fats will require 10-25 years to reach the predicted volume needed and will not solve environmental or health issues.”

Frans Claassen, chair of EPOA specified: “In Eastern European Countries, palm oil is widely used but at the same time relatively unknown. There are currently already 11 sustainable palm oil initiatives of the food industry in EU-member countries. EPOC 2016 has raised awareness about the functional, nutritional and sustainability aspects of palm oil in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. We invite these countries to join us and help achieve our goal of a 100% sustainable palm oil market in Europe.

Norwegian Commitment
During the conference, the Norwegian Initiative for Sustainable Palm Oil(NISPO), signed the “Commitment to Support: 100% Sustainable Palm Oil in Europe by 2020”. Founded in 2014, NISPO  brings together different companies; producers, retailers and hotels. Its aim is to prevent that the production of palm oil contributes to deforestation. The companies will help ensure that all palm oil used is sustainably produced, with respect for people, animals and the environment. Its members are committed to using sustainably produced or 100% certified RSPO palm oil in their products, and have committed to use only RSPO segregated, or traceable and sustainably produced palm oil by the end of 2018.

Balanced debate                                                            
This year an expert pre-conference meeting was held for building knowledge and more in-depth conversations, with parallel programmes on Nutrition and Sustainability.  It provided new insights through lectures, work-shops, lively debates and a virtual reality tour of a palm oil plantation.

The lack of consumer understanding and trust underlines the importance of transparency in the food industry and the need for factual, science-based information to inform stakeholders and decision makers as well as consumers about the role that palm oil plays in our diet.

Palm oil: a good alternative to trans fats
EPOC 2016 reviewed the use of palm oil in food and its nutritional characteristics and impact. In most of Eastern Europe, efforts are still needed to reduce trans fats in food products. Scientist confirmed the broad scientific consensus that trans fats have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health. Most of Western Europe has already switched to palm oil and its naturally balanced fatty acids profile to provide a workable alternative to trans fats.

Support needed in producing countries
The sessions about sustainability indicated that producing sustainable palm oil is the only way to go ahead. European companies are global frontrunners, but action is needed to keep momentum and support activities to improve sustainable production on the ground in producing countries. This was reflected in the discussions on the different certification standards and the need to include smallholders in the activities.

Claassen concludes: “By linking with the recently initiated Joint Council of Palm Oil Producing countries, EPOA is in a good position to support and maintain efforts to improve sustainable production. With the support of ESPO (the European Sustainable Palm Oil project) EPOA will continue to facilitate and support actions to improve sustainable production and achieve 100% sustainable palm oil production in Europe in 2020.”