France’s food industry has utilised palm oil for three decades – particularly because of its technological properties (it’s naturally semi-solid at ambient temperature). Unlike other vegetable oils, palm oil is largely free of unhealthy, partially hydrogenated and trans-fatty acids. But Guillaume Reveilhac, President of the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, argues that it’s environmental, not health issues we should be concerned about.
In France, two major events have made the food industry reconsider its approach to palm oil. In 2010, a number of NGOs raised awareness of its negative impact on the environment; simultaneously, the French media widely reported criticism from some nutritionists about palm oil and its effect on the nation’s health due to its high saturated fatty acid content. French Senator Yves Daudigny even called for an extra tax on palm oil of €300 per tonne in addition to an existing €100 levy, a move which was later rejected by the French senate.
Whether through real concern, or as a marketing opportunity, some companies decided to remove palm oil from their products. But others chose to take action to transform the supply chain and steer palm oil production towards sustainability. To this end, in 2013, several food companies decided to create the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil.
Consisting of 12 members from global market leaders (Nestlé, Unilever, Ferrero, Givaudan) to medium-sized companies (Labeyrie, Cerelia, Vandermoortele, Royale Lacroix, Loiret&Haentjens) and federations (ANIA, Alliance 7 and FNCG), the Alliance has a two-fold ambition: Firstly, provide French citizens with clear information on palm oil, by forcefully overturning received ideas; and secondly, encourage the use of palm oil produced in highly sustainable conditions, by mobilising the industry as a whole (French companies, distributors, refiners, producers, etc.).
Alliance members have also made two major commitments: to use 100% RSPO-certified palm oil in their products by the end of 2015; and use 100% sustainable palm oil, according to stricter criteria, by 2020.*
Backed by leading NGOs that have been working in the field for decades, we are the only organisation [in France] that is able to ensure that all of these aims become a reality.
To better inform consumers about palm oil, in 2014 we launched www.huiledepalmedurable.org, and attended the Paris International Agricultural Show (the biggest trade fair in France), which is visited by more than 700,000 people. The French agricultural minister’s presence in our booth was a testament to French government’s support of our initiative. We also launched an advertising campaign in several media outlets, based on simple messages: the palm oil comes from a fruit and is 100% natural, it has no negative impact on health, and can be sustainable.
In 2014, the Centre de Recherche pour l’Étude et l’Observation des Conditions de Vie, or the Research Centre for the Study and Monitoring of Living Standards (CRÉDOC), released a study on France’s palm oil consumption. The study revealed that the level of consumption is lower than estimated, with 2.8 grams per adult per day and 3.3 grams per child per day being consumed. In terms of daily contribution to saturated fatty acids, this represents 4% for an adult and 7% for a child.
Health has always been prominent in the French debate on palm oil. However, we have helped to create a trend reversal on the issue since the beginning of 2015. The debate about health is now decreasing, while the environmental issue is growing.* This new trend is not surprising as the Alliance has always argued that the real problem lies with deforestation, not health.
In 2015, we need to pursue our efforts to transform the supply chain and change the image of palm oil in France; but only a collective effort involving all the players will enable us to achieve this goal. It is important that all stakeholders involved (NGOs, governments, growers, producing countries, refiners, companies, retailers and end users) work together to develop collaborative solutions, which will enable us to put an end to deforestation, protect peat lands and ensure positive social and economic results for populations and local communities.
Our ultimate objective would be to make France a ‘100% sustainable palm oil’ country. It’s certainly ambitious, but nevertheless, we think it’s possible.
* The French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil defines sustainable palm oil as: