Palm Oil issues continue to be active on a number of fronts and this brief is to act as an update for Members as well as provide some background to the issues.
For a number of years advocacy and public health groups have called for the mandatory labelling of palm oil in food and grocery product ingredient lists. Advocacy groups have concerns regarding the environmental impact of palm oil plantations with possible destruction of rain forest, the habitat of the orang-utan, and public health groups with concerns for consumer health. Amnesty International Australia is also currently campaigning regarding concerns around child labour in palm oil plantations.
Current food labelling regulations allow palm oil and other oils to be identified in ingredients lists under the generic term “vegetable oil”. This allows manufacturers flexibility in their use of various oils based on availability and price without having to change ingredient labels. Manufacturers can, however, identify palm oil use, and other oils, if they wish.
Advocacy groups have called for mandatory palm oil labelling believing it sends a market signal to encourage industry to use certified sustainable palm oil. The issue has received media coverage and attracted the attention of politicians. Senator Nick Xenophon has twice, through private members bills sought mandatory palm oil labelling – five years ago, and most recently last month. The former resulted in a parliamentary inquiry, but was not supported by the major parties.
In 2011 the Commonwealth’s (Blewett) Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy recommended vegetable oils be labelled individually citing concerns regarding saturated fat levels in palm oil. They conceded, however, that this information was already required in the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP). The Government’s response was to ask Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to provide technical advice on the issue and report to the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR). FSANZ’s report to FoFR in November 2016 concluded that there was no additional consumer benefit to palm oil labelling, but that it would result in additional costs to industry. Despite this FoFR requested further policy advice from their bureaucrats “in relation to naming sources of fats and oils to enable consumers to make informed choices in support of the dietary guidelines”. The issue will be considered again at the next FoFR meeting due towards the end of 2017.
Amnesty International Campaign
Amnesty International Australia is currently running a campaign on the issue of human rights and child labour in palm oil plantations. This follows the release of their report ‘The Great Palm Oil Scandal’ published late last year. The campaign encourages consumers to “tell Woolworths, Coles and Aldi to pressure big brand companies to stop profiting from child labour and be leaders on human rights now”.
Taronga Zoo visitor experience
Taronga Zoo is developing a new visitor experience in conjunction with its new Sumatran Tiger enclosure, presenting visitors with information about palm oil issues and enabling visitors to send a pre-prepared message to companies acknowledging their efforts or encouraging them to increase their efforts to source certified sustainable palm oil. The AFGC understands that individual company activity on sourcing sustainable palm oil will likely be ‘rated’ (underpinned by the WWF palm oil buyers scorecard) and the prepared messages will align with the rating. It is understood that the new visitor experience will commence next month.
The AFGC has not supported the specific identification of fats and oils on labels as the information is not required for public health and nutrition reasons. The NIP already provides this function. Furthermore, the Food Standards Code is not the appropriate regulatory mechanism for requiring food labelling on the basis of environmental concerns.
The AFGC does, however, encourage companies to source certified sustainable palm oil and supports the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil as the most appropriate means of achieving sustainable palm oil production.
The AFGC is also looking at how recently developed smart phone technologies and the internet can provide a new way for consumers to find out more about the sources of foods and food ingredients.
Given that NGOs are increasingly targeting individual companies on the issue of palm oil, member companies may wish to ensure that their position statement on palm oil is up to date.
For further information on the issue and the AFGC’s position please contact the Secretariat (Kylie Ruth).
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