What's next for Palm Oil in North America?

By Engaged Expert Mario Vieira

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US and Canada General Manager, Mario Vieira examines what is next for palm oil in the US?

While many of the world’s biggest consumer brands have made commitments to only use certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), North America remains a long way from the 100% CSPO goal that was set for the end of 2020. The demand for palm oil continues to grow year on year, and the need to push harder for sustainable palm oil is more important than ever.

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. Its neutral smell, lack of taste, texture and consistency make it an ideal component for food products, such as ice cream, margarine, cookies and packaged bread; and it can be found in 70% of cosmetic products. Plus, as its yield per hectare is nearly five times greater than any other vegetable oil alternative, using palm oil helps to keep consumer prices affordable.

If it’s so useful, what’s the problem with using palm oil?

The issues linked with palm oil relate to modern slavery, land grabbing and deforestation, which impacts wildlife habitat, including endangered orangutan populations. Greed has led to major deforestation, and if the issues around it are not dealt with properly, it could drive the orangutan into extinction.

What’s the alternative to palm oil?

The most obvious replacement for palm oil is rapeseed, but this is a much less efficient plant, requiring significantly more space to harvest. In terms of scale, the land space needed to meet the world’s palm oil needs is roughly the size of Texas; whereas the space needed for the equivalent amount of rapeseed oil is greater than the size of the entire US.

Not only would much more land be required to harvest an alternative, but it does not solve the root problem - it simply moves it to other parts of the world and threatens other habitats and species. Plus, palm oil is a vital crop for the GDP of emerging economies and there are millions of farmers who depend on producing palm oil for their livelihood.

So what can we do to fix the problem of palm oil?

There is only one way to meet demand while ensuring that the environment, wildlife and locals are protected: certification. And the good news is, there is a simple World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) backed certification process, through the RSPO.

Tell me more about RSPO

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 by several parties, including the WWF, and has taken on the task of solving the issue of palm oil. The RSPO seeks to protect the environment for the orangutans and other species at risk of extinction. It is not pushing for the removal of palm oil, but for properly cultivated palm oil.

The RSPO’s definition of sustainable palm oil limits HCV forest clearance and prohibits burning in its cultivation. The welfare of local communities must be safeguarded, and employees must be offered fair working conditions. Organizations can ensure that they are supporting this by certifying all products containing palm oil to the RSPO standard.

How does the RSPO certification process work?

For the palm oil to be certified, an independent RSPO-accredited certification body, such as BM TRADA, must individually audit each stage of the supply chain – from the plantation, the mill, and right through to the end user. As each stage is certified, there is an obvious paper trail, and the certification can easily be traced back through suppliers.

After being vetted and accepted as members of the RSPO, and putting in place what is known as an ‘internal control system’, businesses seeking certification are ready to be audited. Auditors confirm production processes are adequate, approve documentary records and check the accuracy of sales and marketing literature.

What else is being done regarding sustainable palm oil in North America?

The North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON) is an independent group of associations, civil society organizations, manufacturers, retailers, and palm oil traders and producers who are committed to increasing the use of certified sustainable palm oil and certified sustainable palm kernel oil in North America.

NASPON works collaboratively to find industry-wide solutions to secure certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in products and to ensure respect for human and labor rights, local communities and biodiversity throughout the palm oil supply chain.

Their mission is to be a platform to collaborate, educate, inform and build momentum to help North American companies make and deliver on commitments to source sustainable palm oil, with the overall vision to make North America a 100% CSPO market.

We specialize in providing a comprehensive range of independent testing, inspection, certification, technical and training services. We help organizations to demonstrate their business and product credentials and to improve performance and compliance.

For more information on RSPO or any other certification, please contact us

To meet Mario, the General Manager for BM TRADA Certification North America click here


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