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EPOA

Home – Palm free products

no palm oil misleading

The misleading characteristic of palm-free claims

Research shows that most consumers associate the term ‘palm oil free’ on a product with a conscious choice regarding environmental issues, ethical concerns and health. They see ‘free from’ claims in general as a positive notion. EPOA is of the opinion that a product packaging should describe the content of the product and considers ‘palm oil free’ claims to be misleading and not contributing to the sustainability case for the whole food chain.

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For some companies the positive attitude of consumers towards free from claims, makes it very attractive to use such a claim from a marketing perspective. They use explicit claims like ‘palm oil free’ on the label, even when this information can be deduced from the list of ingredien​​​​​​​ts.

Legally it is regulated that if an ingredient is not in the product it will not be mentioned in the list of ingredients. So attracting extra attention to the absence of an ingredient will merely be done with a marketing angle and will not help to sell a more healthy or sustainable product.

Conflicting messages

EPOA believes that sustainable palm oil has a place in a balanced diet, which should be reflected in product communication to the consumer. A ‘No palm oil’ label is confusing for consumers, because it creates conflicting messages around sustainable palm oil for all stakeholders in the palm oil supply chain, including consumers who would like to make a responsible decision and protect rainforests. 

The only alternative is sustainable palm oil

Palm oil free products are often considered to be sustainable. The absence of palm oil as an ingredient is given as a guarantee that a product has been produced with respect for the environment, good labour conditions or human rights.  Although this may seem perfect at first glance, this ‘solution’ contains serious shortcomings when closely examined:

  • The absence of an ingredient does not automatically make a product sustainable: A product that claims to be sustainable based on the absence of a certain ingredient has a strong potential to mislead consumers. A ‘X’ free product can still contain ingredients that are unsustainably or unethically produced. Unfortunately, all agricultural supply chains face challenges in becoming fully sustainable. By communicating about the ingredients their products do not contain, producers are missing a chance to take responsibility and being transparent about what they do to achieve sustainable change in the ingredients they do.
  • Substituting palm oil can worsen the situation. Once a producer makes the choice to replace palm oil, they are automatically faced with the following question: what should be the alternative for palm oil? However, if you are truly looking for a sustainable alternative, you will probably find that exchanging palm oil with other vegetable oils is not such a good idea. Palm oil is by far the highest yielding crop. Other oils need, in contrast to palm oil, more land to produce the same volume. Replacing a high yielding crop with low yielding crops poses then more pressure on the ecosystems and wildlife living in there. This threat is widely acknowledged by conservation organizations and academic researchers from the International Union for Conservation of NatureWageningen University and the University of Gottingen.
  • The only sustainable alternative is sustainable palm oil: European products containing certified sustainable palm oil have to fulfill the requirements of the RSPO. The RSPO is an international multi-stakeholder organization with more than 4000 organizations. Its members, which include NGOs as WWF, Oxfam Novib, CNV International and Solidaridad, develop the rules for what can be defined as sustainable. Deforestation is for example prohibited under the RSPO standard and there are clear requirements related to the rights of workers and land rights. Besides buying certified ingredients, producers can also invest in projects supporting smallholders or apply No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation commitments in their supply chains.
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How to make a difference

All in all, one of the main challenges we are currently facing is how to transform our food and agricultural system into a sustainable one. Simply claiming that a product does not contain a certain ingredient is not going to contribute to the change we need. When it comes to the production of palm oil, producers who want to protect rainforests and promote sustainable livelihoods on the ground can do this by investing in transforming the way this crop is produced. If you’re interested in looking at how you can make a difference, please have a look at SPOC, a collaboration between companies and NGOs to promote sustainability in the palm sector.

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Spreading the message

Together with National Initiatives, EPOA engages with all companies that we know of that are using negative claims for palm oil. We explain why using these claims is not helping the sustainability case for the whole food chain. We also actively invite them to cooperate and to join us in the efforts to achieving that goal. The only alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil!

EPOA believes that the more positive and honest information there is about sustainable palm oil, the less reason there is for ‘advertising’ palm oil free. That is why EPOA generates and supports positive messages about sustainable palm oil, especially on social media.