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Support for Sustainable Palm Oil Gains Traction in China

Major China-based producers and users of palm oil have committed support for sustainable palm oil, “an important boost for efforts to halt tropical deforestation,” WWF reported today.

The public statement, made at the 2nd International Oil and Fats Summit in Beijing on July 9, committed the companies to “support the promotion, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil in China,'”as well as “support the production of sustainable palm oil through any investments in producing countries.” (The full text of the statement is at the bottom of this page.)

China is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, accounting for one third of all global trade.

“Increasing demand for palm oil, which is used in everything from soap to chocolate bars, is causing considerable damage to fragile rainforest environments, threatening endangered species like tigers, and contributing to global climate change,” WWF said.

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Convoluted rows of oil palms march across a plantation in aerial view in Malaysia.

NGS photo by James P. Blair

Palm oil is the most produced vegetable oil in the world, with about 37 million tonnes produced per year around the world, according to WWF.

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Although palm oil is a more sustainable source of vegetable oil than other crops such as soy and rapeseed (canola oil), there are concerns that growing global demand for palm oil for food and biofuel could lead to rapid and poorly managed expansion of oil palm production that could have serious environmental and social consequences.

Palm oil producers and buyers signing the statement of support for sustainable palm oil included Wilmar International, IOI Group, KLK Berhad, Kulim Malaysia Berhad, Asian Agri., Premier Foods and Unilever. Oxfam International, TransAsia Lawyers, and Solidaridad China have also signed the statement.

“Given the massive of volumes of palm oil now being purchased, any move China makes towards using sustainable palm oil will have a big influence on protecting tropical forest resources in South East Asia and other areas,” said WWF-China Country Representative Dermot O’Gorman.

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NGS photo of a vendor selling palm ooil in a market in the Democratic Republic of Congo by W. Robert Moore

WWF and Unilever helped set up the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004, with the aim of establishing global standards for sustainable palm oil production and promoting the use of products containing sustainable palm oil.

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A credible standard that defines sustainable palm oil production has been developed and a system for certification and trade mechanisms in certified sustainable palm oil are in place. However, there have been concerns that consumers worldwide have been slow to support products that use certified palm oil (see news links below).

WWF-China first introduced sustainable palm oil to Chinese companies in 2004, and continues to encourage the country’s buyers, producers, and traders to participate in RSPO, the Switzerland-based environmental organization said.

“Sustainable palm oil received a massive boost in November 2008 when Dr. Huo Jiangguo, President of China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs and Native Produce, attended the RSPO annual conference in Indonesia and announced that China supported the drive for more sustainable palm oil products.”

“Industry in China acknowledges that sustainability is one of the key criteria of ensuring competence in the global market.”

“Industry in China acknowledges that sustainability is one of the key criteria of ensuring competence in the global market,” said Bian Zhenghu, vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce during his opening address to the forum. “The Roundtable encourages the entire industry chain to make a move towards sustainability, and also gives Chinese stakeholders a big opportunity to play a significant role achieving the aims of RSPO.”

Statement of Support: Promotion of Sustainable Palm Oil in China

This Statement of Support is a non-legally binding expression of support by the signatories on the promotion of sustainable palm oil in China.

Recognizing that

• China is the largest consumer of palm oil which is an important and versatile raw material for both food and non-food products, including biofuel

• It is important that palm oil is produced in a sustainable manner as defined by the Principles and Criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

• Certified sustainable palm oil is now available in commercial quantities

The signatories of this Statement of Support commit themselves to

• Support the promotion, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil in China.

• Support the production of sustainable palm oil through any investments in producing countries that are consistent with the principles for sustainable palm oil production, national laws and China’s guidelines for sustainable agriculture.

 

Further reading:

Clearing Land for Biofuels Makes Global Warming Worse (National Geographic News)

Biofuels Could Do More Harm Than Good, UN Report Warns (National Geographic News)

The slippery business of palm oil (The Guardian)

Backers Don’t Buy ‘Friendly’ Palm Oil (Wall Street Journal)

Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare (New York Times)

How the palm oil industry is Cooking the Climate (Greenpeace)

Why Biofuels Are the Rainforest’s Worst Enemy (Mother Jones blog)

Slow Sales Of Sustainable Palm Oil Threaten Tropical Forests (WWF press release)

Cruel Oil: How Palm Oil Harms Health, Rain Forests0 and Wildlife (Center for Science in the Public Interest)