Last year we worked with Green Party MP, Mojo Mathers, to put this question to Simon Bridges, the Minister for Consumer Affairs:
“Does the Minister believe there will be any negative outcomes of mandatory palm oil labelling, if yes, what are they?”
“Mandatory palm oil labelling would not distinguish between sustainably and non-sustainably produced palm oil and I am advised that compliance costs for business have been estimated to be $3000 to $5000 per stock unit. These costs would likely result in increased prices for consumers.”
Photo: Simon Bridges, Minister for Consumer Affairs
Below we look deeper into these two arguments
The inability to distinguish between sustainable certified and uncertified sustainable palm oil:
Firstly, the ‘sustainable’ certified palm oil he refers to is from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO is an industry led group made up of the biggest players in the palm oil industry meaning it lacks independence, the opposite of certification schemes like Fairtrade. While it holds promise, the RSPO certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil has been criticised worldwide by environmental organisations, particularly for its lack of traceability.
Secondly, leaving aside the quality of this certification, Simon Bridges idea that consumers will be unable to know which type of palm oil is in their product is a very weak excuse. Palm oil labelling does not stop a marketing department from adding RSPO ‘sustainable’ certification logos. Simply by trusting a companies ability to add a logo, Simon Bridges can stop worrying about consumers being confused.
The cost to business:
Simon Bridges next main argument is the cost of compliance for companies. We accept that changing a products packaging can be expensive but relative to the size of companies using palm oil the cost will not be significant. The actions of companies like Progressive Enterprises who are voluntarily labelling palm oil on their products are showing that this isn’t an impossible policy for businesses to manage. An adequate compliance period is the most important tool to allow companies to plan for any extra cost or plan to include the change when they next repackage their product. This is a one off cost that will enable consumers to choose products ethically.