Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sustainability: New Market for Certified Sustainable Oils and Fats?

Confusion reigns over certified and uncertified oils

In recent years, the Western Environmental NGOs (WENGOs) together with producers and buyers of palm oil have attempted to promote the development and market for certified sustainable oils and fats products in addition to existing non-certified products. This has resulted in two types of market for oils and fats: the certified sustainable oil market and the market for normal oils that are not certified. The most desirable and ideal market is of course one where the oils and fats products are proven to be sustainably produced. The proof is via a certification and auditing process where the oils or fats which are found to comply with a set of sustainability principles and criteria will be issued certificates attesting to their sustainable production and processing. These products are supposed to be marketed at a premium to meet the needs of sophisticated markets especially in the EU. In the case of palm oil, such products are referred to as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil in general or Certified RSPO palm oil (CSPO) if the RSPO system is used as the basis for auditing and certification. In contrast, the main market is still mostly for non-certified normal palm oil. Such products cannot be marketed as sustainable as the WENGOs will protest that there is no proof of sustainability. Neither can it be labeled as unsustainable palm oil as there is no proof for that either.Unfortunately, Certified RSPO palm oil has received limited acceptance thus far. The available capacity in Malaysia of about 1 million tonnes of CSPO palm oil has not been fully taken up. Only 30 % of the potentially available RSPO palm oil has been exported to the EU. The main excuse is the lack of willingness of the importers to pay a premium to offset the initial cost of certification. To make matters worse, some of the WENGOs are casting doubts on the ability of RSPO members to supply sustainable palm oil.