The NZ Food and Grocery Council is worried that calls for mandatory labelling of palm oil might mislead consumers.

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.” said Mrs Rich.

Mrs Rich says that 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 that 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.”

Meanwhile, some New Zealand food companies are being slippery about whether they use palm oil, according to a Green Party survey.

Green Party MP Sue Kedgley wrote to 20 of New Zealand’s largest food companies, asking them for a list of products they manufactured that contained palm oil. Watties said it did not use palm oil in any products and Delmaines said it used palm oil only in its Kisses product. Six other companies confirmed using palm oil, but refused to give further information.

A further 12 companies did not respond to Ms Kedgley’s query and follow up request for information. Ms Kedgley said the refusal of manufacturers to disclose what food products contained palm oil was extraordinary, since this was one of the reasons Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) had given for refusing to require palm oil to be labelled.

“FSANZ said in its decision not to require palm oil labelling that if consumers wished to avoid the consumption of palm oil they could contact food manufacturers for the information. Well, we have contacted food manufacturers, and nearly all have refused to disclose this information.”

Conservation advocates say palm oil’s production is responsible for intensive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, leading to the slaughter of around 50 endangered orangutans a week and making Indonesia the world’s third highest man-made carbon emitter, according to Greenpeace.

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