Health professionals have joined Unmask Palm Oil and New Zealand and Australian zoos in the call for mandatory labelling of vegetable oils ahead of a ministerial vote in Australia next month.
The Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, represented by nine Australian ministers and New Zealand’s new Food Safety Minister, David Bennett, will meet in Adelaide on 28 April to vote on whether or not to introduce this specific labelling.
Health experts’ support, including an open letter to ministers comes in addition to more than 170,000 signed letters and petitions from consumers calling on their ministers to support this change.
Further to this, independent polling shows 92% of New Zealanders and 85% of adult Australians want the right to make informed health choices, as well as ethical choices on environmental issues such as deforestation, about the food they buy.
“Compulsory labelling of vegetable oils is a complete no-brainer,” says Grant Schofield, Professor of Public Health and director of The Human Potential Centre at AUT Millennium in Auckland.
“People have every right to know what’s in their food and where it comes from. In addition to well-known environmental issues around palm oil, there are many good health reasons for labelling all vegetable oils. Some vegetable oils are higher in highly refined and high in omega 6 and trans-fats than animal fats. These are fats many New Zealanders might wish to eat less of for their heart and overall health. Give consumers the tools to identify which oils are in products, so they can choose what’s best for their health,” says Professor Schofield.
New Zealand and Australia continue to lag behind the US, Canada and the EU, where labelling of vegetable oils is already mandatory, and has been a powerful driver of sustainable practices. Legislative change in the EU in 2014 resulted in a 67% spike in the uptake of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).
Labelling campaigners Unmask Palm Oil, Auckland Zoo, Hamilton Zoo, Wellington Zoo and Orana Wildlife Park says it’s time for the ministers to stop delaying and give consumers the information that they so clearly want.
New Zealand Food Safety Minister, David Bennett MP, will be meeting with campaign officials at Auckland Zoo ahead of the 28 April meeting in Adelaide.
“We are encouraged that Mr Bennett has agreed to meet us ahead of the Ministerial Forum and we will be impressing on him the importance of a positive vote” says Unmask Palm Oil director, Ben Dowdle.
Dowdle says as well as giving consumers the fundamental right to make informed health choices about the foods they buy, “a vote for mandatory labelling will be a vote to help wildlife and vital rainforest ecosystems – which ultimately, we are all reliant on for our own health”.
Destruction of rainforest habitat to plant oil palm plantations remains the single biggest threat to the survival of south-east Asian rainforest species including orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants.
Consumers can show their support for mandatory labelling of palm oil in food by writing to their MP.
Palm Oil Fast Facts
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil with current global production (62 million metric tonnes) predicted to double by 2020
Labelling was strongly supported by public health groups including the Australian Public Health Association, Nutrition Australia and the Australian Medical Association
92% of New Zealanders and 84% of Australians support mandatory palm oil labelling (UMR Research 2016)
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health itself warns that consuming too much palm oil is bad for health: http://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-and-physical-activity/healthy-eating/making-healthier-food-choices
Around 90% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. In these 2 countries, deforestation to grow it is decimating vital rainforest ecosystems and driving wildlife species like orangutan, tiger, rhino and elephant towards extinction. This is despite non-forested land being available
Labelling palm oil is already a legal requirement in Europe, the United States and Canada, and is a powerful driver of sustainable practices. Subsequent to mandatory labelling coming into force in Europe in 2014, there was a 67% spike in the uptake of sustainable palm oil.
Palm oil can be grown sustainably on non-forested land, but currently only around 14% of palm oil that is produced is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) – which certifies palm oil plantations to ensure they are deforestation-free.
New Zealand’s four major zoos are throwing their support behind Unmask Palm Oil in a campaign that’s calling on Kiwis to join them in demanding clear labelling of palm oil on all food products. Ahead of a key vote on labelling being held on 25 November, the ‘Ask for Choice’ campaign wants to show the ministers who are representing Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) that consumers want choice.
"Every New Zealander should be able to choose what’s in their food," says Unmask Palm Oil founder Ben Dowdle. "Clear labelling is the best step forward for consumers so that they can demand sustainable palm oil, make better nutrition decisions, and create a level playing field."
Palm oil is estimated to be in about half of all products available in supermarkets and currently only has to be labelled on food as ‘vegetable oil’. Mandatory labelling will mean consumers can make informed choices about the products they buy.
Auckland Zoo, Hamilton Zoo, Wellington Zoo, Orana Wildlife Park and Unmask Palm Oil have joined forces to share the message with their communities to push for this change to ultimately save animals in the wild. The wild homes of critically endangered species like Sumatran tigers and orangutans are at risk from deforestation, as large areas of their habitat are cleared to make way for large unsustainable palm oil plantations in South East Asia.
However, palm oil can be produced without deforestation. The zoos and Unmask Palm Oil support the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), which certifies palm oil plantations to ensure they are deforestation free. By pushing for CSPO and demanding clear labelling, we can make sure that the problem doesn’t shift to other parts of the world and onto oils which are less productive than palm oil, therefore requiring more land.
New Zealanders wanting to make the switch from conventional palm oil in order to demand Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) will soon discover that Australasian labelling laws make it nearly impossible to make this simple ethical choice.
"Consumer pressure in combination with well-enforced local legislation will result in the preservation of pristine rainforest," says Dowdle. "Mandatory labelling will help everyone to choose sustainable palm oil – and, in turn, help Sumatran tigers, orangutans and thousands of other animals that rely on these wild habitats to survive."
If you’d like to choose what’s in your food, you can visit a community action station at any of the four zoos between August and November, where you can send a postcard to Minister Jo Goodhew, asking her to vote ‘yes’ to clear labelling of palm oil on products.