UK supermarket ban on palm oil angers producers in Indonesia, Malaysia
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UK supermarket ban on palm oil angers producers in Indonesia, Malaysia

PALM OIL producers have hit back at a UK supermarket’s announcement it will no longer use the ingredient in their home-brand products, claiming that the move was “discriminatory” and misleading.

The Guardian first reported on April 10 that Iceland would become the first major chain in the UK to pledge there would be no palm oil used in its own-brand foods, in order to help prevent further deforestation of Southeast Asian forests.

Iceland, which specialises in frozen food and operates around 900 stores, said it has already removed palm oil from half of its own-brand products.

SEE ALSO: ‘Crop Apartheid’: Malaysia lashes out after EU votes to ban palm oil biofuels

The 10-member Council of Palm Oil Producer Countries (CPOPC) this week protested the announcement, declaring that Iceland was misleading consumers. Moreover, the body claimed that the move could actually speed up environmental degradation and boost CO2 emissions.

“The campaign to cease using palm oil by Iceland would even cause more excessive use of land and is unlikely to replace palm oil [by another vegetable oil] globally,” said CPOPC executive director Mahendra Siregar in a letter to Iceland’s managing director, as quoted by The Jakarta Post.

Palm oil is a highly productive crop with versatile uses in food, cosmetics and biofuels. Indonesia and Malaysia account for around 90 percent of the world’s oil palm production.

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A woman walks past an Iceland store in London, Britain, November 25, 2016. Source: Reuters/Hannah McKay

The industry has, however, long been criticised by environmental activists who say it has contributed to the widespread destruction of prized rainforests in Borneo, Sumatra and Papua – home to some of the world’s most endangered species like orangutans, tigers and elephants.

Palm plantation are also often blamed for forest fires that regularly take place on Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, blanketing large areas of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in a choking haze that can hang in the air for weeks.

Europe is the second-largest market for both Indonesia and Malaysian palm oil. India is the largest. Some experts have, however, raised concern that the removal of palm oil from Iceland’s products could backfire.

SEE ALSO: Pepsi cuts off Indonesian palm oil supplier over labour, sustainability concerns

Dr Jake Bicknell and Dr Matthew Struebig, from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Biology at the University of Kent told Plant Based News that “Iceland’s move to ban palm oil products, rather than work with the industry to seek sustainably sourced solutions, could be viewed as a step backwards.”

“Environmentally conscious consumers should demand palm oil from certified sources, but avoiding it altogether runs the risk of putting pressure on other crops that are equally to blame for the world’s environmental problems.”

Palm oil production is expected to rise further in 2018, with ongoing strong demand from local consumption and exports to Asian countries.

Additional reporting from Reuters.