TOKYO — Nine Japanese makers have declared that by the end of the year, all palm oil they use will be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, as international criticism against poor environmental practices at plantations and producers continues to grow.
Palm oil is found in a wide variety of food and daily-use products. The makers’ pledge signals a step forward in their awareness about protecting the environment. However, most Japanese companies still mix conventional palm oil with RSPO-certified oil — a blend that is anathema to many European companies.
This has not been lost on Japanese consumers, who are demanding better procurement policies.
Nissin Food cup noodle products have displayed RSPO’s palm tree trademark since February. The label assures buyers that the noodles use at least some palm oil certified by the Malaysia-based nonprofit.
Manufacturers buy palm oil through trading houses and, until recently, have not paid much attention to conditions on plantations and in other parts of the supply chain. To obtain RSPO certification, palm oil producers need to do business with growers and mills that have been proven by the RSPO to be free from deforestation practices and child labor, among other concerns. The producers must manage all links in their supply chains as required by the organization.
This makes the cost of RSPO-certified oil about 10% higher than other oil, said an official at a manufacturer.
In 2015, only about 37 Japanese companies were using RSPO-labeled palm oil, compared with roughly 300 each in Britain and Germany. But the number has jumped to 221, due to strict procurement standards imposed on organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“In Europe, many supermarkets insist that relevant products contain only RSPO-certified palm oil,” said Fumio Ota, senior manager of the sustainability promotion section of Ajinomoto, an RSPO member.
Japanese companies are catching up in this area, but the RSPO label on, for example, Nissin’s noodles reads “mixed” — a warning that certified oil has been adulterated with non-certified oil. The same label appears on many Japanese products.
But some companies in the country view the “mixed” designation as merely the first step toward use of only RSPO-certified oil. Of the 37 Japanese members, Lion and eight others plan to attain the goal by the end of the year.
Palm oil is everywhere; in food, detergents and even cosmetics. Morinaga chocolate-coated ice cream bars, Kao laundry detergent and Lion foaming hand soap are just a few examples of where the oil can be found. But despite being in about half of all products in supermarkets, it is referred to as the “invisible oil” because it is rarely mentioned on labels. It is estimated that annual per capita consumption of palm oil in…
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