Your favourite packet of chips or muesli bar snack could contain palm oil – a $65 billion industry which is destroying rainforests and threatening the survival of orangutan populations.
But it is impossible for consumers to know for certain because popular brands such as PepsiCo (Doritos, Twisties) and Kellogg’s (Cornflakes, Nutri Grain) have refused to reveal to The New Daily which of their products contain palm oil.
Environmental advocacy body Greenpeace released a report this week revealing that half of 16 companies that pledged in 2010 to eliminate deforestation from palm oil by 2020 had failed to disclose where they source their palm oil almost 10 years later.
Companies are also avoiding listing “palm oil” explicitly in their product ingredients, instead masking it by using other vague terms.
For example, Doritos contain “vegetable oil” and Colgate toothpaste has “glycerin” – both of which are terms commonly used to describe palm oil content in ingredient lists.
PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Ferrero (which makes Nutella), Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Hershey, PZ Cussons and Smucker’s remain secretive about their sourcing of palm oil.
The environmental concerns lie with brands buying palm oil from companies destroying rainforests, home to an array of wildlife.
Indonesia lost 24 million hectares of rainforest between 1990 and 2015 – equivalent to 146 football fields worth of rainforest destroyed every hour between 2013 and 2015, according to the report.
The Bornean orangutan population has halved since 1999, while a new species of orangutan discovered in Sumatra last year is already endangered.
PepsiCo said some of its snack products are cooked in palm oil that is 100 per cent certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
“In Australia, we primarily use sunflower and/or canola oil for cooking our snacks,” a spokeswoman said.
“Our entire Smith’s potato chip range has been cooked in sunflower and/or canola oil for a number of years.”
Ferrero said it was the first global company in 2015 to source 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil. It told The New Daily it was committed to publicly disclosing the full list of mills it sources by May 15.
Kellogg’s Australia’s Derek Lau said it was committed to working with all its suppliers to source sustainable and fully traceable palm oil.
Meanwhile, eight companies have come clean about where they buy palm oil from.
Nestlé (Kit Kat), Unilever (Ben & Jerry’s), Mars (M&M’s), Mondelēz (Cadbury), Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills (Betty Crocker cake mix), Procter & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser each released details around their palm oil sourcing to provide greater public transparency.
But when contacted by The New Daily, the companies still remained tight-lipped about which of their products contained palm oil.
Nestle said it used palm oil in “a number of products”, mainly as a cooking oil in its food items. It purchased 420,000 tonnes of palm oil globally in 2016.
“Our ambition is for all of the palm oil we use to be produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, meeting consumer expectations and ensuring care for people and the planet,” a spokeswoman said.
“By 2020, we aim to use 100 per cent responsibly sourced palm oil. We have made significant progress in improving the sustainability of our palm oil sourcing.”
Hershey has sourced 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil since 2016 and now publicly shares the names of its suppliers.
“As a next step, we have committed to achieve 100 per cent traceable and sustainably sourced palm oil that doesn’t contribute to the destruction of wildlife habitat or negatively impact the environment,” it said.
Unilever said it is “committed to … sourcing 100 per cent of our agricultural raw materials (including palm oil) sustainably by 2020”.
Mars Australia told The New Daily it would not delve into brand specifics regarding palm oil content.
The New Daily contacted all of the companies listed in the Greenpeace report. Those not mentioned in the article did not respond by deadline.