You will rarely see ‘palm oil’ written in the ingredients list of any product. Palm oil is most commonly labelled generically as ‘vegetable oil’ which can be any kind of oil like canola or soybean. When it comes to palm oil derivatives there are as many as 200 different scientific names that can be used.
Labelling vegetable oils more specifically will ensure consumers can make health based decisions between oils and demand the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. The United States, the European Union and Canada all require specific labelling of oils. We know it will work, in the six months leading up to the introduction of clearer labelling in the EU, demand for CSPO increased by 67 percent.
Labelling is a slow policy process. In 2009, the ‘Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation’, made up of Ministers from across Australia and New Zealand, commissioned an independent labelling review. The review was chaired by former Australian Health Minister, Dr. Neal Blewett and involved extensive public consultation with the panel receiving over 6,000 submissions.
Their final report, published in 2011 and titled ‘Labelling Logic’ had 61 recommendations with one of them being the clearer labelling of vegetable oils:
Recommendation 12 – Where sugars, fats or vegetable oils are added as separate ingredients in a food, the terms ‘added sugars’ and ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list … added fats (palm oil, milk fat) or added vegetable oils (sunflower oil, palm oil);
Unmask Palm Oil has the sole goal of seeing Recommendation 12 become policy in New Zealand and Australia. This policy is used around the world, it works and polling shows that 85% of Australians and 92% of New Zealanders support its introduction.
The recommendations of the report will be decided upon by Ministers of the ‘Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation’ at a meeting on November 25, 2016. The forums membership is made up of a Minister (usually health) from each state, territorial and federal government of Australia and New Zealand, ten in total.
Unmask Palm Oil is extremely concerned by the lack of transparency in the decision making process. The FSANZ technical report that will inform the Ministers vote will be secret until after the meeting, if it is released at all. This means that pressure groups like ours will not have a chance to counter any biases or flaws in the final report. In addition, the Ministers meet behind closed doors meaning the public will never know which way their Minister voted.