Sainsbury's fish fingers go sustainable
... but supermarkets are not putting their money where their mouth is over sustainable palm oil
Last year we reported on the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, an organisation set up by WWF to introduce sustainability certification in the notriously environmentally destructive palm oil industry. We said then that ultimately the proof of the pudding would be in the eating and time would tell whther the RSPO was capable of driving real sustainability gains.
The RSPO has proved controversial with the likes of Greenpeace accusing it was a cover for greenwashing, while Friends of the Earth have actually used the RSPO code to lodge a successful complaint with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority over palm oil greenwashing. We have integrated RSPO membership into our rating criteria, with laggards scoring negative points in our Environment rating.
Six months ago the first shipload of RSPO certifed palm oil arrived in Europe. But WWF have reported that only 1% of the sustainable palm oil available on the market has been bought. So far around 1.3m tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil has been produced, but less than 15,000 tonnes has been sold. That's out of a total annual global palm oil production of 28m tonnes. The problem is the certified palm oil demands a premium price and despite all the media coverage of endangered orangutans and the role of rainforests in protecting us from climate change European retailers and producers just don't seem to believe the public will pay a premium for an ingredient found in 10% of all supermarket products.
Sainsbury’s announced it was using certified palm oil in its “Basics” Brand fish fingers and saw sales double. So there is market and the retailers need to start marketing the environmental benefits and drive change in their supply chains. Sainsbury's has pledged to use 100 percent certified oil by 2014. Let's hope it keeps its promise becuase the whole rationale for the complex and costly RSPO certification scheme is in danger of unravelling if no market can be demonstrated for its produce. Of the 1.3m tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil produced 1.285m tonnes has been poured straight back into vats with the unsustainable stuff, because the producer's could not get a premium for it.
According to Rodney Taylor, Director of WWF International’s Forests Programme. “This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of the RSPO and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of Southeast Asia, as well as other forests where oil palm is set to expand, such as the Amazon.”
According to the RSPO today one third of European palm oil could now be labeled ‘sustainable’ if all the capacity in south East Asia were used by buyers (The EU currently imports about 5.3 million tons of palm oil per year.) That's a long way to go on current trends - Sainsbury's is so far the biggest buyer in the UK, but we're talking hundreds, not hundreds of thousands of tons.
In a bid to speed up this “sluggish performance”, WWF plans to assess the world’s major users of palm oil over the next six months and publish a Palm Oil Buyer’s Scorecard highlighting companies that support sustainable palm oil and exposing those who have not fulfilled their commitments to buy it. WWF will asks all companies buying palm oil to make public commitments that they will use 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil by 2015; to make public their plans with deadlines to achieve this goal; and to begin purchasing certified sustainable palm oil immediately.
The Palm Oil Buyer’s Scorecard will rank the commitments and actions of major global retailers, manufacturers and traders that buy palm oil. Companies will be scored on a variety of criteria relating to their commitments to, and actions on, sustainable palm oil. The resulting scores will not only help consumers evaluate the performance of these companies but will also encourage the companies themselves to better support the use of sustainable palm oil.
Let's keep up the pressure on the manufacturers and retailers to put their money where their mouth is. And let's keep up the pressure on the RSPO and the producer companies to work towards genuine sustainability.