A lot of the food we eat has palm oil. If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and frozen pizza for lunch, chances are, you’re eating palm oil, leading the average Australian to consume 10kg of it every year.

A bill for the mandatory labelling of palm oil will allow consumers to make an informed choice and avoid palm oil, which is linked to the destruction of rainforest habitat in Malaysia and Indonesia. But a recent rejection by the House of Representatives’ Economic Committee has slimmed down the chances of its success.

The Milk Moustache’s Lauren Fitzpatrick reports.

VO: The House of Representatives’ Economic Committee has rejected the labelling of palm oil.

Under current food labelling laws, manufacturers are able to call palm oil ‘vegetable oil’ on their packaging.

Independent senator, Nick Xenophon, introduced the proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Palm Oil) Bill to force the industry to label palm oil on their products. This would allow consumers to make an informed choice about palm oil.

Greens senator and supporter of the bill, Rachel Siewert, says the bill is essential to change consumer behaviour, so that we know what we are eating and can make choices around that.

Rachel Siewert: Labelling of palm oil on products means that the community, and the consumers, can look at a product and look if it’s got palm oil in it. They can then make an informed choice as to whether they want to buy that product, or not.

VO: Palm oil is high in saturated fat and increases the risk of heart disease, but the big issue surrounding it, is environmental destruction.


VO: But most people often don’t think about what’s in their food, and that can be especially true for palm oil.

VOX POP: To be honest I’ve never heard of palm oil. I don’t really know what palm oil is.

VO: Palm Oil Action reports that in Southeast Asia, mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia, the equivalent of 300 soccer fields are cleared of trees every hour for palm oil production. As a result, 1,000 orangutans die each year because of the land clearing necessary to produce it, leading to a 90 per cent decline in their population.

Tony Maher is the Director of Sustainability and Development at the Australian Food and Grocery Council. He says that labelling products containing palm oil will not reduce deforestation and save the orangutans.

Tony Maher: It’s often put in simplistic terms that the labelling of palm oil is going to save orangutans or prevent deforestation, and the issue is much more complex.

VO: Greens senator, Rachel Siewert, disagrees.

Rachel Siewert: If people start reacting to that, that should ten start sending a message back to the producers of palm oil that people won’t accept unsustainable production of palm oil, and that they need to be guaranteed that they’re not clearing rainforest and orangutan habitat to establish palm oil plantations, which is what’s happening. 

VO: But the recommendation by the House of Representatives Economic Committee to reject the Bill is backed by the fact that it would be a significant new cost to the Australian food manufacturing industry, estimated at up to $150 million, which the federal government is unwilling to provide.

Maher from the Australian Food and Grocery Council agrees with the Committee.

Tony Maher: What we are in favour of is industry, voluntary arrangements that allow industry to make improvements across the board, whether it be on palm oil or anything else, that don’t require the need for mandatory, costly, and onerous legislation.

VO: He believes that only health issues such as allergies should be labelled on products, and says that labelling palm oil will open up the floodgates for manufacturers.

Tony Maher: The labels should be limited to issues or concerns surrounding health and safety, so allergies and things like that of course need to be labelled on the product. Once you start getting into consumer interest issues, it does open the door for every single issue that a consumer wants to raise.

VO: The future of the bill is currently in the hands of the Federal House of Representatives. Although insiders remain doubtful that the bill will pass, people continue to lobby.

This is Lauren Fitzpatrick, reporting for The Milk Moustache.


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