Palm oil may be a distant third place in U.S. and Canadian vegetable oil consumption, but it’s the most used vegetable oil in the rest of the world.
There are some solid reasons why. It’s semisolid at room temperature, has good oxidative stability and generally has a lower cost than most other food oils. It’s naturally red in color because it has carotenes, primarily beta-carotene and lycopene, which add nutraceutical properties, although it can be further-processed into a clear oil.
However, palm oil does have a sullied reputation. Virgin rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia have been burned down and replaced with palm plantations. Indigenous peoples and animals have been displaced; the orangutan in particular has been a victim of the unfettered growth of oil palm plantations. And small farmers and farm workers’ rights and livelihoods have not always been respected by big palm oil companies.
So the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. There are 3,779 RSPO members, ranging from Cargill to Campbell Soup and from Citibank to National Federation of Oil Palm Growers of Colombia. The group’s mission is to:
- Advance the production, procurement, finance and use of sustainable palm oil products.
- Develop, implement, verify and periodically review credible global standards for the entire supply chain of sustainable palm oil.
- Monitor and evaluate the economic, environmental and social impacts of the uptake of sustainable palm oil in the market.
- Engage and commit all stakeholders throughout the supply chain, including governments and consumers.
The RSPO aims to have growers and millers adhere to 163 criteria to be certified sustainable. This includes everything from best practices on soils, the protection of primary forest and ensuring human and worker rights.
For more information on sustainable palm oil, see www.rspo.org.