More Sustainably Sourced Palm Oil
PepsiCo continues to be pressured by activists, environmentalists and concerned consumers . . and for good reasons.
More than 450,000 tons of palm oil go into PepsiCo products ever year, mostly in the companies snack foods. The principle complaint about palm oil is that as demand increases, more rainforests will be cut down to make way for agricultural land and thus damaging wildlife and their habitat. Information on palm oil is not easy to find with many websites mentioning that .5 football pitches-worth of forest to over 600 is being hacked down every hour.
Whatever the actual figure, the loss of rainforest is devastating and the awareness is growing on sourcing sustainable palm oil. Companies including Unileaver, P&G and Nestle have all made commitments to source palm oil that is certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO-certified). This means the oil palm plantation was established on land that did not contain significant biodiversity or wildlife habitat, and is committed to the highest environmental, social and economic standards set out by RSPO.
PepsiCo released such a commitment in 2014 but according to Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the company’s commitments do not apply to all the moving parts of production from the plantations, mills, collection ports, to product manufacturers, or even all PepsiCo branded products. As the largest distributed snack food company with sales around $65 billion, PepsiCo’s current palm oil policy has loopholes and needs to be pressured to change.
As a consumer it could be easy to boycott palm oil all together, however, this may have further repercussions. While most anti-palm oil campaigns focus on multinational plantations, 40% of plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia are farmed by smallholders. An estimated 3.2 million people in Indonesia and Malaysia are employed by oil palm plantations and a boycott would have an effect on these people’s livelihoods. Further, an elimination of palm oil in our super markets altogether would mean growing and sourcing another crop. Oil palms can produce four tonnes of oil per hectare, per year compared to rapeseed that requires six hectares to produce four tonnes of palm oil, sunflower needs eight hectares, and soybean requires nine.
Pressure needs to be on pushing companies to source sustainable palm oil and for plantations to work towards achieving the highest sustainable standards. Also, what can be done is for a Fairtrade label to be developed and used that clearly states “Sustainably Sourced Palm Oil”. A clear label would tell the consumer that the product has been produced without risk to rainforest, wildlife, and the environment, and that there were standards the company had to meet to use that label. Simply applying a label that states “Contains Palm Oil”, as per the new 2014 EU law, has little impact on encouraging consumers to purchase products sustainably sourced.