Thursday, April 25, 2024

Palm oil seminar a success

Australia’s first industry-led palm oil seminar was held in Melbourne on July 21, with the seminar bringing together brands, buyers, suppliers and NGOs who shared a common objective of openly discussing the risks and options around the use of palm oil in products sold in Australia.

The day began with accounts from NGOs who work on the ground in countries where palm oil is produced, sharing real life experiences of the impacts of deforestation and human exploitation still widespread in the industry. The efforts of many stakeholders to overcome these issues were discussed, including the benefits and limitations of certification, ie, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Attendees heard from two of the world’s largest suppliers of palm oil in Wilmar International and Sime Darby, who explained their efforts with both certification and own-company-led policies. The rapid rise of ‘No Deforestation’ policies and the role they play in driving industry change beyond certification were also discussed.

The role of advocacy groups was covered, too, such as Australia-based volunteer group Palm Oil Investigations, who explained the growing public interest in their barcode scanning smartphone app that helps consumers make informed decisions at the supermarket shelf (approximately 50 per cent of all supermarket packaged products contain palm oil).

Representatives from Nestlé, Ferrero and ecostore presented their strategies. The challenges and importance of sourcing fully traceable oil and engaging with the supply chain was highlighted.

The final session of the day was an open discussion highlighting important messages:

  • Palm oil is the most efficient vegetable oil to grow, with the industry bringing millions of people out of poverty: avoiding its use will not help the issue.
  • Around 20 per cent of the industry is RSPO-certified and this standard has limitations, such as with reach, especially to smaller growers who represent a large and growing share, and in focusing on the key issues, in particular, deforestation.
  • Conservation is critical, but also expensive.
  • Australian business can make meaningful change, reduce risk of negative publicity, build stakeholder relations and add value to their brands by making a strong palm oil sourcing policy commitment that builds traceability and supports change on the ground.
  • The importance of engaging now, rather than making longer-term commitments (eg, 2020), which have little practical meaning unless backed up by clear action plans, milestones and reporting of progress.

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