CHOICE wants mandatory palm oil labelling

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CHOICE’s latest food labelling research has found 70 percent of Australians want clearer palm oil labelling.

The consumer advocacy group said when it comes to Easter chocolate, “consumers are in a palm oil labelling wilderness, with phrases such as “vegetable fat” masking this unhealthy and often unsustainable product.” 

“When we looked at similar 125 gram packs of Easter eggs from Cadbury and Mars, we found ourselves in the dark when it came to determining the presence of palm oil,” said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“We believe that consumers have a right to know what they’re buying this Easter. In order to make informed decisions, we would like to see palm oil labelling mandatory on food products.”

CHOICE has released the results of its latest palm oil survey which found 70 percent of Australians think it’s important that palm oil is labelled separately on the ingredients list.

CHOICE surveyed 1061 Australians aged 18-75 years. Of the Australians who place importance on being able to correctly identify whether a product contains palm oil, 59 percent cited environment reasons, 58 percent health reasons, 45 percent animal welfare reasons and 37 percent ethical reasons relating to Fairtrade/worker conditions.

“The current labelling system allows palm oil to be hidden behind a generic ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘vegetable fat’ label. It’s not surprising that only 15 percent of Australians mentioned palm oil when asked which oils are included in those terms,” Godfrey said.

“Many Australians are not aware that palm oil is a common ingredient in products ranging from margarines, biscuits, breads and breakfast cereals to chocolates, instant noodles and personal care products.

“It is estimated that about half of all packaged items in supermarkets contain this type of oil.”

“Palm oil production has been associated with significant environmental impacts, while the product also contains more than 50 percent saturated fat and can raise ’bad’ cholesterol levels. It is one of the two tropical oils the Heart Foundation recommends consumers avoid, along with coconut oil.”

“Even though a growing number of companies now use certified sustainable palm oil, it makes up just 18 percent of the global palm oil supply, and the type of certification is not always declared on pack,” Godfrey said.

“Whether it's for health reasons, environmental concerns, or to make food purchasing decisions that align with personal values and beliefs, consumers should be able to identify palm oil in their chocolate treats next Easter.”

The Forum of Food Regulation Ministers will be looking at a recommendation this year that would see palm oil be identified on food products.

CHOICE is urging consumers to email their state minister to let them know they want labels that identify whether palm oil is in their food.