Saturday, 13 August 2011

Palm Oil in ASDA "Best For Baking"

Palm oil is used in many foods and household products. It is also increasingly being used as a feedstock for biofuels.

The demand for palm oil is resulting in peatlands being drained and forests being cut down in south-east asia to make way for vast palm oil plantations. This is particularly ironic as the palm oil is then used to make an allegedly "green" fuel (see here for more about biofuels).

You can read about the issues in more detail here and here.

Anyway, BFTF bought some of ASDA's own brand "Best For Baking" spread recently and noticed that it contained Palm Oil.

Wanting to know what ASDA's policy was on Palm Oil, BFTF sent the following to ASDA via their feedback form.

"I bought some of ASDA'a own brand "Best For Baking" spread today and note, with concern, that it contains palm oil. What assurance can you give me that the palm oil used in this product has been grown on land that has not been reclaimed from peatland, or forest."

Update (21 Aug 11)
Received a response from ASDA describing how they were taking steps to look at the safety and wellbeing of Orangutans, including a training DVD for Palm Oil plantation workers (eh? BFTF Does not recall mentioning them in its original email. . . ). The response then goes on to state that ASDA was the first retailer to join the roundtable on sustainable palm oil (RSPO) and that they had “committed” to only sourcing palm oil from producers who respect the rainforest.

This is all very well (if a little ambiguous in places), but it does not really answer the question that BFTF asked. Sooooo, the following was bounced back to ASDA

 Dear ASDA,
 Thank you very much for taking the time to respond.
 However, you appear to have sent me the answer to someone else’s question. I am glad to see that ASDA is concerned about Orangutans but I have checked my original communication and can find no request for information on policies relating to Orangutans, or indeed any other primate.
 I am heartened to hear that ASDA has joined the RSPO. However, the RSPO is relatively weak regarding prevention of deforestation and peatland drainage. For example, Greenpeace state that “Many RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry, such as large-scale forest clearance and taking land from local people without their consent. On top of this, the RSPO actually risks creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the palm oil industry.”
 I would therefore be very grateful if you could answer my original question. In case of confusion, this was “"What assurance can you give me that the palm oil used in this product [ASDA Best for Baking] has not been grown on land that has been reclaimed from peatland or forest."
In addition, could you please clarify what is meant by “committed” in the phrase of your response stating that ASDA has “committed to only source palm oil from producers who show respect for the rainforest and the large apes living there”. Do you mean that palm oil used by ASDA is from producers who “show respect for the rainforest” right now, or that it will be at some undefined point in the future?

Update (28 Aug 11)
ASDA responded within a few days, even calling me to let me know that they were getting some information from the buyers to answer my question completely. The response stated that ASDA were in the process of installing systems in their factory sites would allow them to "be 100% able to stand by a claim that all the palm oil used in our product is from sustainable sources."

At the current time, ASDA felt that there was a "very high chance" that the palm oil in this product was from non-reclaimed land and that while they could not yet guarantee this, they were working hard to be in a position to do so.

In response, BFTF sent a final, closing set of comments to ASDA (see below).
Thank you for this comprehensive, clear and unexpectedly honest set of comments. When ASDA is able, I would certainly encourage the labelling of products that use palm oil from non-reclaimed land to state this fact, as this would be a powerful incentive for me to buy your products over those of a competitor.

In the meantime, whilst I remain a little nervous, your comments have given me sufficient confidence to use ASDA own brand products that contain palm oil. Sadly I shan't be using "Best for Baking" again as it is - and there is no easy way to say this - absolutely rubbish as a replacement for butter when baking biscuits.

Dear reader, you may wish to nudge a supermarket or other retailer in the right direction regarding some item that you purchase. We can't do everything, but we can all do something - and as grocery shopping is one of the biggest of the household expenditures it can be used to do a lot of good if we choose to.

By the way, "Best for Baking" turned out to be a very poor substitute for butter in biscuits (see here for the recipe). . .

It would be great to head what you think. Did BFTF go far enough? Not far enough? Would the last comments from ASDA have been enough for you to buy palm oil based products from them?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post - currently trying to navigate my way around the knotty Palm Oil issue and, like yourself, finding it very difficult to get straight answers about what's good and what's not. Good work!