The British newspaper and website The Guardian hosted an international online debate which tackled some of the biggest issues in the palm oil industry, from sustainable production to boycotts to palm oil alternatives. Participants included both corporate sustainability directors and leaders from environment-focused NGOs. Much of the cordial discussion was centered on responsible palm oil production and making certified sustainable palm oil more widely available worldwide. This topic may be unfamiliar to many Americans because the United States gets most of its palm oil from Malaysia. This progressive county sustainably grows and produces some of the highest quality palm oil in the world. Someday, this premium, eco-friendly palm oil may be more easily identified because it will carry the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) seal.
Below are a few highlights from the international online debate.
- Participants discussed the importance of responsible palm oil production. Jonathan Horrell, Mondelez Director of Global Sustainability, wrote: “There’s rapid growth in traceability and transparency, driven by technology, data and demand from end-use businesses and other stakeholders. Traceability is a way to follow consignments of product through from production to end-use. Transparency is a way to increase visibility of conditions, practices and impacts in supply chains.” According to its palm oil action plan, Mondelez sources its palm oil primarily from Malaysia and Indonesia. Smallholders are a key part of its supply base.
- Regarding a palm oil boycott, Anita Neville, Golden Agri-Resources Vice President of Corporate Communications and Sustainability Relations wrote, “I think the palm oil industry of which I am part has done a terrible job of telling the story of some of the very good things that are happening to tackle those challenges. And what palm oil does in terms of livelihood benefits.” In Malaysia, responsible palm oil production has been credited with reducing poverty and increasing the standard of living for family farmers.
- The debate also touched on palm oil alternatives, such as soy and canola (rapeseed) oil, admitting that they, “come with their own list of problems,” referencing a Guardian article concerning the serious eco-consequences of growing soybeans. This Climate Focus report identified soy and livestock as significant drivers of deforestation. Soybeans are annual plants that requires much more resources (energy, fertilizer, etc.) than the perennial oil palms. In fact, oil palm is the world’s most land-efficient crop thanks to the abundant oil-rich fruit which grows on the stately trees. One acre of oil palm trees can annually produce 11 times more oil than a field of soybean plants, ten times more than sunflower and seven times more than canola.