Iceland’s palm oil decision misleading, says CPOPC

By NG MIN SHEN / Graphic By TMR

The Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) has lashed out at a UK supermarket chain operator as its intention to remove palm oil from all its own-brand produce is “misleading the consumers”.

Iceland Foods Ltd has announced that it would remove palm oil from all its own-brand produce by year-end, drawing quick rebuttals from palm oil producing countries and planters.

CPOPC ED Mahendra Siregar (picture) said the palm oil productivity makes it the most sustainable edible vegetable oil, and Iceland’s action will not help solve the sustainability issue.

He said Iceland’s decision would require a piece of new land of 10 to 20 times larger to replace the existing amount of oil palm farmland, which is “just not possible in the global landbank scale, let alone in Europe”.

The letter from the MD of the palm oil board led by Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two largest palm oil producers, was addressed to Iceland MD Richard Walker.

“CPOPC considers that the claims being made against palm oil are also misleading the consumers on the environmental benefits of other vegetable oils, and that retailers throughout the European Union should bear this in mind,” Mahendra said in the letter dated April 13, 2018.

He said the action is considered discriminatory by singling out palm oil from other vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, sunflower and soybean, which have also caused severe degradation, destruction of flora and fauna, and contamination of the water table and oceans, as well as carbon dioxide emissions from alternative land uses.

The supermarket chain plans to reduce palm oil demand by more than 500 tonnes annually which it believes would stop rainforest demolition in South-East Asia.

The British frozen food specialist said it has already eliminated palm oil from half of its products. Prior to this, 130 products, or 10%, of its own- brand food contained palm oil.

Walker has said the supermarket chain is merely saying no to palm oil until it is guaranteed not to be causing the destruction of rainforests, adding that “we don’t believe there is such a thing as guaranteed sustainable palm oil available in the mass market”.

Mahendra said while CPOPC understands that there is still progress to be made in the sustainability journey, one must remember that palm oil has improved the livelihood of countless smallholders and workers in over 12 countries internationally.

“Intheview of CPOPC, the result of Iceland’s policy is to contribute to the overall reorientation of the palm oil trade with little impact, if any, on conserving the crown jewels of our planet,” Mahendra said.

Meanwhile, Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SD Plantation) — the world’s largest oil palm plantation company — said “the UK’s Iceland supermarket chain has made the misguided decision to ban palm oil from all of its own-brand food lines”.

“While we share Iceland’s concern over the alleged sustainability issues associated with palm oil, simply replacing palm oil with other vegetable oils will only impose more pressure on forests as more land is needed to produce the same amount of oil,” it said in a separate statement.

SD Plantation said oil palm is a highly efficient oil crop which produces between four and 10 times more oil per unit of land than other substitutes such as soybean, rapeseed or sunflower.

It said with projections on global population indicating a rapid rise that will fuel exponential increase in the demand for vegetable oils, a ban on palm oil “should be seen as imprudent and unrealistic”.

SD Plantation said sustainability standards and certified sustainable palm oil have long been available in the market.

“We would like to encourage Iceland to be part of the development and objective discussion on sustainable palm oil, and a greater understanding (is urged) on the tangible benefits of buying sustainable palm oil as (it is) a better solution for its business and the world at large,” the palm oil planter said.

Malaysia presently accounts for some 39% of world palm oil production and 44% of global exports.