Food, Fuel, or Forests? Charting A Responsible U.S. Role in Global Palm Oil Expansion
This report warns that the increased demand for palm oil -- which makes its way into the U.S. in a myriad of food and cosmetic products-- may lead to further loss of tropical forests and create new greenhouse gas emissions if palm oil expansion is not managed sustainably.
Palm oil has overtaken soybean and canola as the world’s largest source of vegetable oils. Over the next decade, global demand for vegetable oils and biofuels are expected to rise between 50% and 40% respectively with palm oil contributing a high percentage in both sectors. However, palm oil expansion has been linked to significant increases in tropical deforestation, social conflict, and emissions of greenhouse gases that result from the clearing and draining of tropical forests and peatlands. While the majority of plantations are currently in Southeast Asia, the palm oil industry is aggressively branching out into Latin America and Africa.
This report is being released on the eve of the General Assembly of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSPO) in Jakarta, Indonesia from November 9-11. The RSPO was set up six years ago to improve the sustainability of palm oil supplies by establishing an independent certification program, similar to other commodity sectors. Despite the growing demand for certified palm oil, the RSPO still has several structural problems in its system that must be fixed if palm oil can be credibly claimed to be sustainable, according to NWF’s report.
The report focuses on the role that major U.S. buyers and distributors of palm oil can play in improving the sustainability of palm oil supplies. While the U.S. is a relatively small consumer of bulk palm oil in the global economy (only 2%), it is estimated that around 50% of packaged retail food products sold now contain palm oil, and that U.S. demand may rise sharply in the years ahead, especially given new markets for biofuels. Many large scale U.S.-based agricultural industries are members of the RSPO and are among the largest global buyers and distributors. Some of these companies have committed to switching their palm oil supply to “certified” sources by 2015 but they have not necessarily committed to RSPO standards or to improving RSPO systems.
The report sets out the steps U.S. companies can take to play an active role in improving the environmental and social standards of the palm oil industry
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