The 2017 European Industry Meeting on Palm Oil

Posted on: May 29, 2017

Exploring common ground and synergies

The European Industry Meeting on Palm Oil on the 9th and 10th of May 2017 in Brussels, organised by the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), provided ideas and inspiration on new ways to cooperate in rebalancing the palm oil debate in Europe. 

High level dinner
During a high level multi-stakeholder working dinner on the 9thMay, EPOA brought together palm oil producers, refiners, manufacturers, traders, national palm oil alliances and industry organisations, representatives of governments and diplomats recognising the urgency to act and cooperate to rebalance the palm oil debate in Europe. The aim of the dinner was to listen to the positions and ideas of the different stakeholders and seek common ground. The suggested activities will help prioritise the EPOA activity plans. The needs and suggestions expressed by the participants will help shape a more effective coordinated approach to rebalance the palm oil debate and achieve 100 % sustainable palm oil in Europe in 2020.

The meeting on the10th of May was aimed at the industry alliances and individual companies that are actively engaging in the palm oil debate. During the morning session, participants were informed about two important studies related to palm oil. Dr Sophie Hieke, Head of Consumer Science of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) presented the results of the EUFIC study on consumer interpretation of 'free from’ claims. The second presenter, Dr Pierre-Marie Aubert gave a presentation on the IDDRI review evaluating the different certification schemes of sustainable palm oil.

‘Free from’ labels
EUFIC investigated the consumers’ attitude in Europe towards labels with the term ‘gluten-free’ ,‘lactose-free’, ‘palm oil-free’ or ‘GMO-free’. The study made clear that ‘free from’ labels could potentially be misleading consumers. Labelled products are perceived to be healthier compared to products without such a label. independent of which ingredient is absent. If the consumers’ expectation – that food with a free from label is healthier – is not met, this may result in distrust in the industry.

Awareness of ‘free-from’ labels varies significantly between countries. Poland is the most aware of ‘free-from’ labels out of the four countries that were investigated, followed closely by France, then the UK and finally Sweden which shows the least awareness. For the ‘palm oil-free’ label, the relevance of nutritional value, environmental concern and food safety varies between countries. These and other key findings of the EUFIC study are published on the EUFIC website.

Certification Schemes
Pierre-Marie Aubert presented a review of existing certification schemes for sustainable palm oil, which was executed by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in France. He concluded that existing schemes have made a lot of progress, but still need to be strengthened to improve the sustainability of industrial production. Governments and development operators of importing countries, in particular developed countries, should strengthen cooperation with producing countries. This will help  foster the development of policies that simultaneously allow independent smallholder to capture a greater share of added value and encourage conservation regulation in high environmental and social value areas.

In South-East Asia, any palm oil sustainability scheme should aim at better regulating large scale plantation practices while encouraging the development of sustainable production by smallholders. The impact of the former on social and environmental issues being in most cases way more important than that of the later. In the case of corporate commitments, a better understanding of the negotiations between buyers and suppliers of palm oil would help identify possible margins of progress. These and other key findings of the IDDRI review are published on the IDDRI website.

In the afternoon the different national initiatives for sustainable palm oil discussed the main developments and some key activities in 2017. France, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Spain (new) presented their efforts in rebalancing the debate on the sustainability and nutritional aspects of palm oil with various stakeholders (local politicians, consumers, health professionals, NGO’s, press).  The European Advocacy Group (ESPOAG) presented the context and the current status of the European policy concerning the EP report on palm oil and deforestation. FEDIOL gave a summary of the main developments regarding the European policy on 3 MCPDE/GE.

During an interactive ‘speed date’ session, focusing on the national initiatives, the delegates from various countries and companies discussed the most interesting and effective activities, and the opportunities to execute similar activities in another country/organisation. In order to seek synergy between the different industry initiatives, it was decided that EPOA will provide  an online overview of all (communication) material (videos, brochures, scientific papers) issued by the various initiatives  on sustainable palm oil in Europe, including that of EPOA.

All EPOA material can be downloaded here. The videos can be watched here. The presentation of Sophie Hieke and the presentation of Pierre-Marie Aubert given during the EPOA Industry Meeting on Palm Oil the 10th of May 2017 are accessible for participants here. Please roon [at] palmoilandfood [dot] eu (contact us) if you are interested to receive the presentations given by the National Initiatives on sustainable palm oil in the afternoon.