Food labels not a battleground for animal welfare

Posted by Janice Wong on 21st May 2010

“Food labels should not be used as a battleground for issues as diverse as deforestation, animal welfare and human rights,” said Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) Chief Executive Kate Carnell.

Ms Carnell’s comment is in response to Independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon’s statement that Australian consumers are being mislead by products labelling palm oil as vegetable oil.

AFGC highlights that palm oil is, in fact, a vegetable oil just like soya bean, corn rapeseed oils which are widely used in manufactured food products.

Ms Carnell said food labels need to be easy to comprehend and should only contain important product information relating to health, nutrition and safety.

However Ms Carnell praised Senator Xenophon for applauding companies sourcing sustainable palm oil.

Nestle this week made a global pledge to stop buying palm oil from companies owning or managing plantations or farms linked to rainforest destruction highlighted that food and grocery manufacturers are acting responsibly and voluntarily. Unilever has also made a commitment to purchase all of its palm oil from sustainable sources by 2015.

“It’s encouraging that more and more food manufacturers are moving towards using sustainable palm oil as it become more widely available,” Ms Carnell said. “Currently, demand for sustainable palm oil is outstripping supply from certified plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia,”

AFGC strongly supports the need to produce and source palm oil in a more traceable and sustainable way, minimising environmental impact and protecting local smallholders, which is advocated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“Whether there is a label on a product or not, there is no evidence to suggest that labelling palm oil in Australia would change the level or extent of deforestation in Indonesia or Malaysia – or that labelling would save one orangutan or tiger,” Ms Carnell said.

Ms Carnell said Senator Xenophon needed to understand that Australia’s palm oil use was “a drop in the ocean” compared with other developed nations including India and China.

Under the RSPO – designed to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through cooperation within the supply chain and stakeholders – companies can purchase Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), which has been approved as sustainable, and is grown on certified plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.