UK misses sustainable palm oil target

The UK has failed to meet a target to achieve 100% sourcing of “credibly certified sustainable palm oil” by the end of 2015.

Figures just released by DEFRA show that 87% of imports were RSPO certified by the end of 2015. This is a major improvement on the 24% recorded in 2009 but still short of the goal, which does not include imported finished goods.

Looking at the detailed submissions, the hospitality sector appears to be adversely affecting overall performance. The government’s own buying practices could also be to blame for the failure to hit 100%.

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) indicated that 67% of foodservice management companies now use sustainable palm oil ingredients. However, leading retailers representing almost 80% of the grocery trade have reached 100%, whilst the food manufacturing sector achieved 98% CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil).

The BHA did not respond to Footprint’s requests for further information, whilst the Sustainable Restaurant Association noted in its submission that it “cannot speak for the whole of the hospitality industry and so is limited in the scope of its reporting”.

Also unclear is how much sustainable palm oil is being used by public sector catering firms. In its statement for the recent update, the UK government said there had been “continued progress” towards compliance with the government buying standards. The vast majority of contractors are thought to be complying with the standards – which require central departments to source only sustainable palm oil by 2015 – but DEFRA would not disclose any exact figures.

Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at WWF-UK, said that even though the target wasn’t reached, the story “does have some good news. UK imports of sustainably certified palm oil increased from 50% in 2012 to 72% in 2014 and is up at around 87% at the end of 2015 [based on the more conservative figures calculated]. This shows what can happen when the government takes an issue seriously and acts,” she explained.

However, Keller called on government to set new, stronger commitments on palm oil to include derivatives and finished products and to eventually move beyond GreenPalm certificates to 100% mass balance and segregated supplies. “Palm oil is just the beginning,” she added. “Government need to start paying attention to the impacts caused by other key commodities including soy and cattle products, beef and leather.”

Previous research by WWF has shown that the foodservice sector lags well behind retail and manufacturing when it comes to sustainable sourcing of commodities linked to deforestation like palm oil and soy.

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