Focus on sustainability

Posted on 28 August 2013

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Semi-solid at room temperature, palm oil and palm kernel oil are among the world’s most versatile raw materials. As a result they can be found in one in two supermarket products, and many baked goods, from cookies to pastries, contain ingredients derived from palm oil and palm kernel oil.

About 60% of the palm oil consumed has been processed into a palm oil ‘derivative’ or blend. At the first stage, it is split into liquid palm olein (80%) and solid palm stearin (20%).

Palm kernel stearin is commonly used in confectionery. These derivatives are then blended with other oils, or undergo further processes to create new oils with different physical properties and chemical characteristics. Such blends and derivatives may be used as ingredients within shortenings and margarines for pastries, for example.

However, palm oil derivatives can themselves be split a second time to produce ‘double fractionated’ palm olein and stearin. These ‘double derivatives’ are used in the production of a wide variety of ingredients, including toffee fat.

Environmental concerns
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are incredibly versatile, but the farming of palm has been linked with tropical rainforest destruction, removal of endangered species’ habitats and human rights violations.

In response to this, a minority of pressure groups have been lobbying manufacturers to replace palm oil with other oils, but for a number of reasons, zero palm is not the simple ethical solution that some believe it to be.

The palm tree produces more edible oil per hectare than any other, making palm oil an important commodity for feeding a growing global population.
Global demand for this versatile oil is huge. Even if European manufacturers reformulated palm oil out of their products, Asia’s immense demand would not wane.

Palm provides employment for some of the poorest farmers in the world. More than 30% of palm is grown by smallholders who rely on it as their only source of income.

There is no replacement oil with the all round benefits of palm oil. Soya, rapeseed and sunflower do not produce sufficient yields and they are annual crops, requiring increased physical effort and investment. Another option, animal fat, is linked to high cholesterol.

RSPO certification
The answer is not to ban this versatile oil, but to be part of the certified sustainable palm oil solution.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil for people, the planet and for prosperity.

For growers to become RSPO certified, they must commit to the following eight principles:

  • commitment to transparency
  • compliance with applicable laws and regulations
  • commitment to long-term
  • economic and financial viability
  • use of appropriate best practice by growers and millers
  • environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity
  • responsible consideration of employees, and of
  • individuals and communities affected by growers and mills
  • responsible development of new plantings
  • commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity (www.rspo.org/en/who_is_rspo).

The supply chain
With consistent consumer demand for ethically and environmentally sound food products, many baked goods manufacturers are making a commitment to sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.

A small number of consumer groups are putting pressure on manufacturers to guarantee that their products contain only segregated palm oil. They want them to prove that every drop of palm oil, palm kernel oil and any derivatives used within their food item has been provided by an RSPO certified producer.

To be able to claim that all palm oil ingredients are fully segregated is a tall order. To maintain the integrity of the oil, each member of the supply chain, from the grower to the manufacturer, must be audited and certified by the RSPO.

This is the ideal scenario, but in an industry that involves interwoven supply chains, this is complex and therefore costly. It is this perceived complexity of committing to sustainable palm oil that has deterred some manufacturers from supporting RSPO certified palm oil and palm kernel oil.

Achieving sustainability
Obviously the long-term aim is to get to a point where a fully segregated sustainable palm oil supply chain is the norm. To achieve this, the industry needs the support of the world’s manufacturers, but how can manufacturers get to this point without having an efficient and cost-effective supply chain in place? It is clearly a chicken and egg problem.

GreenPalm is a simple solution for supporting RSPO-certified palm because it bypasses the supply chain. Manufacturers can offset their palm use by buying GreenPalm certificates representing an equivalent volume that has been produced in line with RSPO principles and criteria. Suppliers stay the same but manufacturers can directly support sustainable palm productions at its source – the very place where it matters.

Whatever the product, by joining GreenPalm and trading certificates, manufacturers can quickly support the production of sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil certified by the RSPO, while engagement and collaboration takes place within the physical supply chains. This means that there is no need
to wait for supply chains to change or for segregated supplies to be available.

Many baked goods ingredient and product manufacturers have joined the GreenPalm programme. Members include companies such as Interbake Foods, Park Cakes, Quality Pastries and United Biscuits. ♦

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