Sunday, July 10, 2011

Europe to require listing of palm oil on product labels

Oil palm plantation in Malaysia. Photo by Jeremy Hance

Members of the European Parliament have voted in favor of listing specific vegetable oils — including palm oil — on product labels, reports the Clear Labels, Not Forests initiative which pushed for the measure.

The new agreement requires all vegetable oils to be labeled individually by 2015. Presently different oils are typically label under the generic term "vegetable oil."

Conservation groups pushed for the measure as a means to make consumers aware of whether the products they use contain palm oil, which environmental campaigners have linked to deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Conservationists are hoping palm oil labeling could encourage consumer products companies to use more eco-certified palm oil, which is generally produced without conversion of biologically-rich rainforests and peatlands. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the leading certification standard.

"Consumers want to know if products contain palm oil, and where that palm oil comes from," said Helen Buckland, UK Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society, one of the supporters of the Clear Labels, Not Forests initiative. "This new regulation will make palm oil visible on ingredients lists, enabling consumer choice and ultimately providing leverage for European companies to clean up their supply chains and only use certified sustainable palm oil."

"It is time for retailers and manufacturers to play their role in supporting the transformation of the industry."

The labeling measure has been strongly opposed by the Malaysian palm oil lobby, which fears that listing palm oil as an ingredient could result in discrimination against palm oil-containing products in the marketplace.

"Malaysia is of the view that labeling palm oil purely from the perspective of sustainable production is discriminatory," said Y.B. Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, Malaysia's Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, in a statement issued last month after Australia passed a similar labeling rule.

Palm oil is used widely in processed food products and cosmetics. Its high yield makes it a cheap source of oil.

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