Iceland to become first UK supermarket to ban palm oil

Palm oil is currently found in more than half of all supermarket products, from bread, pastry, biscuits, cereal, soap and chocolate 

Iceland is one of UK's major supermarket chains
Iceland is one of UK's major supermarket chains

Iceland is to become the first major UK supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand products by the end of the year, in a bid to halt the ongoing destruction of tropical rainforests in south-east Asia.

The Deeside-based supermarket chain says palm oil is used in more than half of its products. Palm oil – a cheap and mass-produced ingredient renowned for its versatility – is currently found in more than half of all supermarket products, from bread, pastry, biscuits, cereal and chocolate to soap and detergent.

The frozen food specialist says it was alerted to the environmental challenges presented by palm oil by the work of campaign group Greenpeace.

Palm oil is also used in cosmetics and biodiesel, and with demand projected to double by 2050 its popularity is set to wreak further havoc on the environment.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, where expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest driver of deforestation, the orangutan is among the wildlife species threatened with extinction. Recent studies show that Bornean orangutan numbers more than halved between 1999 and 2015, with only 70,000–100,000 now remaining.

Despite the high level of concern over the effect palm oil has on the environment in countries where it is grown, a survey of more than 5,000 UK consumers found about a third were not sure what palm oil is.

However, once they were told about effects on the environment, 85% said they did not think it should be used in food products.

“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil’,” said Richard Walker, Iceland managing director, who visited Borneo last November to see the impact of deforestation. “We don’t believe there is such a thing as verifiably ‘sustainable’ palm oil available in the mass market.”

Iceland’s pledge is that by the end of 2018, 100% of the supermarket’s own brand food lines will contain no palm oil, reducing demand by more than 500 tonnes per year. Iceland said that before this, palm oil was present in 130 products, or 10% of its own brand food.

It has worked with its suppliers to replace palm oil with substitutes such as rapeseed and vegetable oils.

The store chain has a history of acting to remove controversial products from its shelves.

It was the first supermarket to ban GM-grown crops in its own-brand goods, and earlier this year said it would eliminate or drastically reduce plastic packaging of all its own-label products by the end of 2023.

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