Explicit labelling of palm oil in product ingredient lists is required by law in some countries, while in other countries it is at the discretion of individual retailers and manufacturers.
What are the regulations for food labelling?
The regulations for food labelling vary from country to country.
In Australia, there is currently no obligation under law to list palm oil on food ingredient lists—the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ may be used. The proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Palm Oil) Bill 2011 has not been passed into law. There are currently campaigns underway supporting transparent labelling, such as ‘Don’t Palm Us Off‘ by Zoos Victoria, and Unmask Palm Oil.
In December 2014, a new EU law on the provision of Food Information to Consumers (FIC), adopted by the Council of the European Union on 29 September 2011, came into effect. Under the new legislation, which applies to all member states of the European Union, the types of vegetable oil used in food products must be stated explicitly on the label. This means that manufacturers can no longer hide palm oil in their ingredients under the generic term ‘vegetable oil’.
In the UK, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) produced an impact assessment of the entire FIC legislation (i.e. not just vegetable oil labelling), which stated that:
“The total one off familiarisation costs for industry in England are estimated at around £8.14 million… The total one-off familiarisation cost to businesses in England translates to an equivalent annual cost of £946,000 over a ten year period… For micro to small businesses, which account for 98.7% of all [Food Business Operators] FBOs, this is likely to be around £41 per business. For medium to large firms, it is equivalent to around £89 per business.”
In the US, food labelling regulations (Code of Federal Regulations Title 21) state that ingredients shall be listed by common or usual name. Blends of vegetable oils may be listed as ‘blend of vegetable oils’, followed by the common or usual name of each individual oil in parentheses. If each oil in the blend is completely hydrogenated, the term ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ is followed by the common or usual name of each individual oil in parentheses, e.g. ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed, and palm oils)’.
To find out more about labelling products containing certified sustainable palm oil and how you can support sustainable palm oil production, visit the Shopping page.