Sustainable Palm Oil

Policy Position

FDF members are concerned about the destruction of rainforests and peat fields in South East Asia caused by the creation of palm oil plantations and the effect this is having on the environment, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity.

That is why many FDF members are committed to working with their supply chain partners to achieve 100% use of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) – using various mechanisms from GreenPalm certificates to segregation.

FDF supports the work of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil and to bring CSPO to the market through a multilateral process that includes all stakeholders in the palm oil supply chain.

Some people perceive the RSPO to be too slow and limited in scope to achieve desired change. However, FDF believes that credible and effective progress can only be made through a legitimate multi-stakeholder organisation like the RSPO, which takes account of all relevant factors impacting on the supply chain and commands market confidence in its approach to sustainability certification.

A key challenge is that many food manufacturers use certain parts of palm oil, known as fractions as well as blends. Some of these complex fractions or blends are not currently available as CSPO. FDF therefore supports the continuing efforts by the global marketplace to establish a solution that will deliver sufficient supplies of competitively priced CSPO across all complex fractions.

Palm oil is an important and versatile raw material for both the food and non-food industries. Whilst palm oil is cost-effective, it is also a key raw material because of its unique physical properties, being a particularly consistent ingredient that is very compatible with certain ingredients such as in chocolate.

Palm oil is invariably blended with other oils and fats like sunflower or rapeseed oil to produce food products. Palm oil fractions and kernel oil have played an important role in recent years in eliminating trans-fatty acids from manufactured foods. It specifically enables the continued provision of solid fats for use by food manufacturers.

There is also increasing consumer demand for food made with ingredients that are not GM-derived or of animal origin. UK food and drink manufacturers can continue to provide choice for these consumers by using a non-GM vegetable oil such as palm.

Furthermore, palm oil produces the highest yield of oil per unit area[1]. Therefore, careful consideration would need to be given to moving away from the use of palm oil in case alternative ingredients were to place an even greater strain on the environment.

1. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil



Working with the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET), FDF produced a guide setting out a simple step-by-step process to help food and drink manufacturers of all sizes source 100% CSPO. This is supported by a detailed Q&A and supplier questionnaire, while CPET has run a series of webinars.

Around 185 million metric tonnes[2] of vegetable oil are produced worldwide every year, of which 39%[3] is palm oil and palm kernel oil, the world’s largest oil crop. 86%[4] of the world’s palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, with the balance coming largely from other parts of South-East Asia, South America and West Africa. This oil is exported worldwide and used as a key raw material for food, non-food industries and biofuels[5]. Because of its versatility, increasing global demand for palm oil, particularly in China and India, has resulted in a rapid expansion of production. Whilst the best oil palm plantations serve as models of sustainable agriculture, serious concerns have been raised that not all palm oil is being produced sustainably.

Palm oil can be used to produce a variety of food products including: margarine, confectionery, snack foods, biscuits, cakes, sauces, condensed milk, powdered milk, non-milk fats used in coffee and ice-cream. As well as food products, palm oil is used in the manufacture of soaps, detergents, candles, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, animal feed, biodiesel, household and industrial products. Figures show that since 1999 the share of food industries’ use of palm and palm kernel oil in Europe has fallen from 82% to 47%, whereas the share of industrial use has risen from 16% to 80%. Share of palm and palm 
kernal oil use in Europe

As part of a global strategy on sustainable sourcing of commodities, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formally established in April 2004. The RSPO aims to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue with its stakeholders. Since its formation, the RSPO has grown steadily in size, now with more than 2,800 members. It has established an RSPO certification system which has brought more than 82 million tonnes of CSPO and CSPKO onto the global market place since 2008[6].

On 30 October 2012, FDF signed up to a UK statement on the sustainable production of palm oil[7]. The statement draws together new and existing commitments on the sourcing of sustainable palm oil made by organisations representing businesses within the UK palm oil supply chain. The statement publicises the progress being made by UK business sectors on sustainable sourcing and sets out their commitments to further action with the ambition of sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil by 2015.

On 17 November 2015, Defra published a third annual progress report which includes a statement from FDF highlighting the efforts of our members. Latest UK palm oil consumption data [9]. for 2014 shows that 72-93% of UK palm oil was sourced in 2014 via RSPO certified supply chain systems, up from 2013 figures of 55-71%. The majority of this growth was as a result of a 30% rise in purchases of segregated and mass balance palm oil.

On Monday 7 December 2015, a Commitment to 100% Sustainable Palm in Europe was launched at the EU and Global Value Chains’ conference. FDF is a founder signatory of this new initiative which aims to stimulate uptake of more sustainable palm oil in Europe by working in close collaboration with national palm oil sustainability initiatives. Huge progress has been achieved by UK food and drink producers since the UK national ambition launched in 2012, but to succeed in tackling sustainability challenges, further collaborative action is required to drive systemic change across whole supply chains.

Challenges remain, not least the ongoing lack of availability of complex fractions and derivatives of palm oil and palm kernel oil. Increasing demand and continued collaborative action between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers in the UK palm oil supply chain may help to improve this situation, however the UK acting alone cannot completely transform the market and the highly complex derivatives supply chain.

RSPO membership and chain of custody audit requirements can be a barrier to small businesses engaging and communicating publicly on their use of sustainable palm oil. Manufacturers already face multiple customer audits and their uptake of sustainable palm oil could be aided by addressing the overall cost and disruption of audit requirements imposed on food and drink producers.

2. USDA 2015
3. USDA 2015
4. USDA 2015
5. USDA 2015(food industry 50%; industrial use 46%; and feed waste 4% of total EU consumption)
6. RSPO, May 2016
7. Defra, 30 October 2012
8. Defra, 17 November 2015
9. Defra, 17 November 2015
10 European Palm Oil Commitment, December 2015

Last reviewed: 25 May 2018