Today’s (10 April) pledge is the first to be made by a major UK supermarket. It could see the demand for palm oil reduced by more than 500 tonnes per year, Iceland has claimed.

The retailer has already stopped using palm oil in half of its own-label range. By the end of this year, 130 products accounting for 10% of Iceland’s own-brand food will have been reformulated.

Palm oil is found in more than half of all supermarket products, but the commodity is linked with environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest driver of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species including the orangutan are being threatened with extinction.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said he felt passionately about the importance of raising awareness of the issue.

“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil’,” Walker said. “We don’t believe there is such a thing as verifiably ‘sustainable’ palm oil available in the mass market, so we are giving consumers a choice for the first time.”

‘Time running out’

Iceland – which earlier this year became the first major retailer to pledge to remove plastic packaging from its own-brand food – has invested £5m to enable the shift away from palm oil. Alternatives such as sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and butter will be used instead.

Already in 2018, Iceland has brought out 100 new lines without palm oil, and this figure will increase to more than 200 by the start of 2019.

Welcoming Iceland’s commitment, Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said the decision was a direct response to the palm oil industry’s “failure to clean up its act”.

“As global temperatures rise from burning forests, and populations of endangered species continue to dwindle, companies using agricultural commodities like palm oil will come under increasing pressure to clean up their supply chains,” Sauven said.  

“Many of the biggest consumer companies in the world have promised to end their role in deforestation by 2020. Time is running out not just for these household brands but for the wildlife, the climate and everyone who depends on healthy forests for their survival.”

Research suggests that many consumers are unaware of what palm oil is. But once informed about palm oil and its effects on the environment, 85% say they do not believe it should be used in food products, according to a recent consumer survey.

In February, Unilever became the first consumer goods firm to publicly disclose palm oil suppliers and mills that it sources from, both directly and indirectly. Alongside Pepsico and Nestlé, Unilever was accused of complicity in the destruction of Sumatra’s last tract of rainforest.

George Ogleby

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