The European Union’s (EU) Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy, the heart of the EU Green Deal, aims to create fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food systems. During a presentation at the International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference (IPOSC), Frans Claassen, chair of the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), explained how this initiative offers opportunities, as well as challenges, for far-reaching sustainable change beyond the palm oil industry. 

The EPOA is a business initiative of palm oil refiners and producers committed to sustainable palm oil across Europe. “At EPOA, we believe that sustainably produced palm oil is a key food ingredient that fits in a nutritionally balanced diet and helps feed the world, protect biodiversity and improve socio-economic development,” said Claassen. “In Europe and worldwide, food and non-food manufacturers will continue to need and use palm oil, so it must be produced and consumed in a sustainable way, without deforestation.”

He added, “Although we still face enough challenges, we can also proudly say that the palm oil industry is a frontrunner in the development of sustainability within agriculture worldwide.”

  • 100% of palm oil and palm methyl ester used in the European biodiesel market is certified sustainable.
  • 86% of the palm oil imported for food, feed and oleochemicals in Europe is certified sustainable.

There are still challenges. “Frontrunners in the palm oil supply chain are paying the additional price while many European Food and Retail companies are not yet using certified sustainable palm oil, or not using physical certified sustainable palm oil,” explained Claassen. “Due to incomplete, false and misleading information campaigns of several NGOs and media, we face an unbalanced image of sustainable palm oil in Europe. This has resulted in a trend where several food companies and retailers due to commercial reasons are moving away from palm oil and are promoting palm oil-free products.”

Claassen said the EU F2F strategy, as well as the EU communication to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, offer opportunities to expand sustainable production and consumption. He added that these policies should address the unbalanced image of palm oil and acknowledge the importance of sustainable palm oil for implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

The EPOA would like to see mandatory due diligence for European companies using palm oil and other vegetable oils as this would create a fair and consistent framework for all companies. “These checks and balances should be non discriminatory, so also be introduced for other commodities like soy, beef, cocoa, etc. The EU must avoid shifting sustainability issues to other commodities. Let’s get a fair, wide-ranging regulatory framework in place for all production and consumption that is related to deforestation,” explained Claassen.

Claassen said the EU, “shouldn’t use regulations as barriers for trade or burdens for already vulnerable and in many cases smallholder producers.” He added that the EU should work to prevent misleading claims and end the use of free-from palm oil claims. “As EPOA, we remain alert to misleading claims and will continue to act proactively when we believe misleading communication and/or claims are being used.”

Claassen suggested a multilateral approach. “We believe the EU should engage with other sizable importers of forest-risk commodities beyond Europe, which is essential to have an impact on a global scale. The F2F strategy is an opportunity for the EU to start the development of international standards for sustainable production and consumption.”

The EPOA acknowledged the importance of national mandatory standards such as the Malaysian and Indonesioan Sustainable Palm Oil certifications (MSPO and ISPO), and other country-based initiatives to produce sustainably and stop deforestation and believes the EU should do the same. “We would like to stress that each region of the world moves at a different speed, with its own challenges and opportunities. In our opinion, positive impact in producing countries can only be achieved when good governance both on forest protection and agricultural production as well as support to producers (and particular towards smallholders) is in place.”