Like the little girl in Iceland Food’s video (Nov 2018) about the displaced orangutan Rang-tang “I don’t know what to do”. But not knowing what to do does not help anybody! So I decided to learn more. Not an easy job. My findings come in instalments! Here is one that I already posted on Linkedin:
PALM OIL CERTIFICATION – VIEWED FROM THE SIDEWALK
In December 2018 I started my own survey in Sweden of products that contain palm oil, specifically certified oil. The trigger was the Iceland Food video that you have most likely seen. I asked on FB for help with observations. Not many replies – and very few products; traditional Xmas give-aways like ginger snaps and chocolates. Then came Valentine’s day – with more chocolate, but no comments at all regarding palm oil in that chocolate. The Iceland video was obviously forgotten (although it might come back). We know that opinion moves in waves – nothing new there. Only that this time we may be at a crossroads.
Without a sophisticated survey I conclude that consumers in Sweden are aware of ongoing environmental degradation and generally object to it. They want to avoid products deriving from activities that lead to poor resource management, including degradation of the environment and wildlife habitat. If the planting of oil palm causes such degradation, they want to avoid products containing the oil. The recent “landslide” of warnings about global warming and the need for better resource care has added to the engagement. (Greta Thunberg appeared outside the Swedish parliament and has since stepped up on the global stage. And young people in other countries are following.)
Swedish law obliges producers to provide a clear declaration of ingredients of food products, and the law is generally respected. If a product contains palm oil the consumer can find out in the grocery (a magnifying glass is handy 😊 since the print tends to be very fine).
I and the persons who contacted me could however only find two or three products (ginger crackers and chocolate) that declared on the packing that the palm oil in the product was certified. Alternatively some products had the explicit text that there was no palm oil at all. – In addition, one or two producers said that we can find information on their web site – where they tell that their palm oil is certified (but I sense that this info passes almost entirely un-noticed by most customers!)
Consumers who wanted to take a stance and act by choosing products containing only certified palm oil were thus left with next to no choice – and it is quite likely that they refrained altogether from palm oil-containing products. (But we are very far from a boycott.)
With this background my personal assessment of the consumer view is that for conscious consumers, certified palm oil is in practice not an option, for the reason that few products and very little information are available.
A more generalised summary of the observations above (admittedly “anecdotal” but according to me pointing in one direction only) could be: 1) consumers are partly aware of the sustainability issues involved, and want to “make the right choice”, but they are not provided with much information to base their choice on, and 2) the certification concept, its procedures and agent(s) like RSPO, are for all practical purposes unknown, and related information needs to be disseminated in more effective ways. (Again, I am referring to Sweden, and food products. And in the global perspective the Swedish market is of course of little significance.) Both points are definitely made more urgent in the light of what is now said with increasing intensity about global warming and the urgency of protecting remaining forests.
Moving back to the sidewalk, there is not really a lot to see!
And this leads to more questions, like: who is to provide the info that consumers need to have about product ingredients, and how should the info be disseminated? How can the consumers verify the information? The questions beg for answers all the more when we are informed – for example – that most edible products on the grocery shelves contain palm oil (and then there are cosmetic products too), that oil palm is a superior producer of oil for food when compared to any other plant species, that small-holder plantations of oil palm in Indonesia and Malaysia and elsewhere help lifting farmers out of poverty, that palm oil certified for sustainability (e g by RSPO) is available in bigger quantities than what the Western markets demand – only a quarter of the palm oil imported into Europe is certified, and that controlling deforestation remains an issue in the global warming and biodiversity context.
This deserves follow-up. Comments pls!
Are we pushing the rope?