* New EU labelling rules to come into force in December 2014
* Sustainability certificates to reassure consumers
By Ivana Sekularac
AMSTERDAM, March 5 Palm oil consumption in
Europe would be curbed when new rules start next year compelling
food makers to label their products with the ingredient if used,
the Dutch product board warned.
Because it is solid at room temperature, palm oil has become
an irreplaceable ingredient in a variety of products from
chocolate bars and spreads to biscuits, ice cream and even soap.
But a wave of negative campaigning has targeted its
cultivation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia - a natural
habitat for the orangutan - where activists say rain forests
have been destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations.
Frans Claassen, head of the Dutch Board for Margarine, Fats
and Oils, which represents the industry, said the negative
campaigns could force food producers to seek to replace palm
oil, which would cut its imports and make products more
"If palm oil keeps its bad reputation some food producers
could stop using palm oil," Claassen told Reuters.
Since 1995 global palm oil production has tripled as food
producers have used it to replace less healthy trans fats
created by hydrogenation of liquid oils such as rape oil, soy
oil and sunflower oil.
Palm oil imports to the European Union account for 10
percent of global production, and nearly half is imported
through the Netherlands.
As of December 2014, food producers will be obliged to put
on labels if they use rape oil, palm oil, soyoil or any other
oil that are currently all labelled as vegetable oil, and
experts say it will be difficult to find a replacement for it.
Mike Gordon, professor of food chemistry at the Department
of Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Reading in
Britain said milk butter fat could be the only alternative.
"It (milk butter fat) would probably be a bit more
expensive," he said.
Campaigners and food producers agree sustainability
certificates could be a way to reassure consumers a rainforest
has not been destroyed to make room for the palm oil used in a
Unilever, one of the world's biggest palm oil
buyers, said 100 percent of its palm oil was sustainable as of
"By 2020, we are aiming for all of our sustainability
sourced palm oil to be traceable back to the plantation on which
it was grown," it said in a written statement to Reuters.
It said the industry needs to step up demand for sustainable
palm oil which now accounts for 15 percent of the global output,
to reassure both consumers and campaigners.
In Malaysia, a government official who declined to be named
said his country will draft a new labelling strategy to reassure
consumers in the EU, a major importing region.
"The strategy is to differentiate ourselves from Indonesian
palm oil where most of the forest clearing is happening. In
Malaysia, on the other hand, we are running out of land," the
Hans van Trijp, professor of marketing and consumer
behaviour at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said
labelling would not on its own bring any changes in consumer
behaviour, but aggressive campaigns could make them more
observant of labels and prone to boycotting certain ingredients.
"The information itself will not motivate consumers to
change. The issue needs to be put on the agenda," he said.