Palm oil labels won’t inform shoppers or save wildlife

Press Release 21/06/2010

The Food and Grocery Council is concerned that calls for mandatory labelling of palm oil might mislead consumers by implying that the world’s most sustainable vegetable oil crop is a toxic ingredient best avoided, says Chief Executive Katherine Rich.

“The opposite is true. When grown on appropriate farming land, palm oil is the most environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and versatile vegetable oil available in the world today.”

“Palm oil has the highest yield of any oil seed crop. More oil is produced with less land than any other substitute. Other vegetable oils can require up to 10 times the land to produce the same amount of oil.”

“Food labelling is increasingly being used as an easy battleground for issues as diverse as deforestation, animal welfare, obesity and human rights. As a country we need to be realistic about what can and can’t be solved by a product label."

Mrs Rich says FGC supports FSANZ and NZFSA’s stance that labelling should be used for issues relating to health and safety. From a health perspective, it’s more important for consumers to know how much saturated fat is contained in a product rather than what that fat might be.

“FGC doesn’t support mandatory labelling of specific vegetable oils. It’s an issue of practicality. Palm oil is just one of over 70 vegetable oils used in food production for a variety of reasons. Before regulators make detailed listing compulsory there has to be a good health or safety reason for doing so.”

Mrs Rich says calls for palm oil labels haven’t been thought through. Labels will only indicate whether palm oil is used, but will say nothing about where the oil was sourced or whether sustainable production practices were employed.

“The palm oil may be sustainably produced or come from one of over 40 different countries many of which will not face the same environmental concerns. A label which says “contains palm oil” leaves the interested shopper none the wiser.”