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What we believe about palm oil

For 11 years, long before it became a well known issue*, Biome has spoken out about palm oil and tried to avoid selling products that contain palm oil or its derivatives because of the associated habitat destruction and threat to endangered species. 

Sometimes, despite our thorough questioning of the manufacturer and best endeavours to verify accuracy, products may contain palm oil.

Our primary position is to require transparency so that you can make a fully informed decision based on your values.  We don't entertain any form of "green washing"  with unsubstantiated claims or logos.  No matter the environmental claim, we ask manufacturers to call it for what it is and not treat consumers like gullible pawns.  Frankly, we prefer to stock a product that states clearly "contains palm oil" rather than one trying to weasel around "sustainable palm oil".

We only stock products that provide full ingredient disclosure, including the specific plant oil contained in the product - we do not accept simply "plant-based surfactant" or "vegetable oil".  

Further, it's either palm oil or it's not.  We do not believe that “sustainable palm oil” or even "certified sustainable palm oil" is a trustworthy alternative due to the lack of transparency about the supply chain and the % of CSPO in the end product (see more below).   If you are committed to not increasing demand for palm oil, then we recommend avoiding all palm oil. 

In some cases, we choose to stock products with a minimal amount of palm oil derivative if we believe the supplier is working towards eliminating palm oil.  Where we are aware that a product contains a potential palm oil derivative, we will make this clear so that you can make an informed choice. If it matters to you, avoid those products because there are plenty of alternatives that have made the change.

No manufacturer (including soap makers) needs to use palm oil. They use it because it is the cheapest plant-based option.  However, if the true environmental cost was factored in (including the carbon dioxide released when the peat bogs were decimated, and full traceability to source), it would be more expensive and less appealing to use.

Lastly, we are very open to your vigilance and assistance with the products that we stock.  We operate with honesty and transparency, but mistakes can happen.  We have a lot of products to keep an eye on across many issues such as cruelty-free, vegan, fair trade, and certified organic. 

*Biome Founder, Tracey Bailey, awakened to the problems of clear felling Kalimantan's rainforests in 1996.  Read about her journey here >

What is Biome’s stance on palm oil?

Biome has a commitment to not sell products containing palm oil or its derivatives.  Excluding pure palm oil is relatively straight-forward (once we gain clarification from the supplier on the specific "plant" or "vegetable oil" they list as ingredients).  However, ingredients containing an amount of palm oil derivative are difficult to verify. 

However, we have ended up with some some skin, hair and makeup products containing palm oil in our store, but we will always state this, where we know, to help your decisions.

We actively speak to suppliers about removing palm oil from their products - for example, we helped encourage Beauty and the Bees to remove palm oil from their products.  We admire their leadership in making the change.  We have also removed ranges that would not disclose on their packaging what "vegetable surfactant" they use.


Palm oil free ranges offered at Biome include:

Skin & body                           Cleaning                                        
Beauty & the Bees
Dindi soap
Olieve & Gunbower Creek
Miessence deodorants
Pure and Green
Riddels Creek Toothpaste
Kin Kin Naturals
Clean Conscience

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an edible plant oil from the fruit of the African oil palm (Elaeis guneensis).

What is palm oil used for?

The bulk of palm oil demand is created by the food industry (an estimated 40% of food found on our supermarket shelves contains palm oil). Commonly used as a cooking oil, palm oil is often the main ingredient in margarines and found in confectionary, ice cream and ready-to-eat meals. It is a base for many detergents, soaps, shampoos, lipstick, waxes and polishes. Palm oil is also used as an industrial lubricant and increasingly, as a biofuel (despite evidence it may actually increase greenhouse emissions).

Where does palm oil come from?

90% of oil palm is produced from large plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Its versatility, high oil yield and relative cost has increasingly seen palm oil replace animal and other vegetable oils in a wide variety of products. It now currently makes up 35% of vegetable oil production worldwide (35 million tons). Global production of palm oil has doubled over the last decade and is expected to double again by 2020.

What is the issue about palm oil?

The most serious side effect of the growing popularity of palm oil is the removal of forest to make space for oil palm monoculture in Indonesia and Malaysia. The equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour for palm oil production. This is causing major habitat destruction and threatening many species in these areas. Notably, deforestation due to palm oil is considered the single biggest threat facing Orangutans, and is directly implicated in the deaths of an estimated 50 per week.

What about “sustainable” palm oil?

We believe that the use of the term "sustainable palm oil" confuses the consumer and thus the surest solution is to avoid palm oil.  The palm oil issue is no different to many other "green washed" environmental issues such as "recycled", "organic", and even the milk supply chain.

We are often told by suppliers that they use "sustainable” palm oil. However, we believe this is unlikely and/or problematic as currently the effectiveness of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is yet to be proven.  Manufacturers may claim to be using sustainable palm oil because they are members of, or supplied by members of, the RSPO. However, this in itself is no guarantee as members only need commit to "working towards" producing a sustainable product.

Further, even with "Certified Sustainable Palm Oil" (CSPO), because palm oil is traded in bulk on the international commodity market, the supply chain infrastructure makes it impossible to guarantee exactly where the palm oil originated from.

Companies can place "CSPO" logos on their products because the palm oil has conformed with one of the RSPO traceability models: Identity Preserved (IP), Segregated (SG), Mass Balanced (MP) or Book and Claim (BC)

Only the "Identity Preserved" supply chain model assures you that the palm product delivered to the end user is uniquely identifiable to a single mill and source and that it is kept isolated from all other palm sources throughout the supply chain (meaning you could actually go and visit the plantation - or at least look at it on Google Earth!).  Alarmingly, "Mass Balance" allows non certified palm oil to be mixed in with CSPO and even worse, "Book and Claim" allows trading of certificates to offset the conventional palm oil that ends up in a product claiming to be "sustainable palm oil".  Here's a document that explains the models.

According to the RSPO, a manufacturer using the logo is meant to include a statement to this effect:
“Contains (…)% RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.” (used by both ‘Identity preserved’ and ‘Segregation’ systems)
“Support the production of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.” (used by both ‘Mass balance’ and ‘Book and claim’ systems)

They should also be required or ethically obliged to put the supply chain model i.e. IP, SG, MP or BC.

However, have you ever seen a manufacturer put such a statement?  No, they just put the "certified" logo without disclosing the supply chain basis. In my opinion, if they had nothing to hide, they would put the transparent statement.  Just like manufacturers are keen to put the vague "Recycled" logo without explaining what percentage of the material is recycled, and what percentage was actually post consumer waste.

This diagram explains the Mass Balance supply chain for palm oil that ends up in a product labelled as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.  I fail to see how this is helping reduce demand for palm oil - rather it is helping perpetuate reliance on palm oil as a cheap ingredient. 

RSPO mass balance supply chain for certified sustainable palm oil

How can I tell if a product contains palm oil?

It is often hard to tell! In food it is generally labelled under “vegetable oil”. If it is a food product that lists vegetable oil and contains around 50% saturated fat, the ingredient will most likely be palm oil, palm kernel oil (from the same plant) or coconut oil. Other names to keep an eye out for that could be derived from palm oil are emulsifiers (E471 is a common one), cocoa butter equivalent (CBE), cocoa butter substitute (CBS), palm olein and palm stearine. In cosmetics, is labelled Elaeis guineensis. Other ingredients which may be palm oil based include sodium lauryl sulphate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, isopropyl and other palmitates, steareth-2, steareth-20 and fatty alcohol sulphates - but, this is tricky as some of these ingredients can be derived from coconut and other oils too). See this handy Palm Oil Ingredient Card.

Why can’t palm oil be more clearly labelled so I can make an informed choice?

Australians unknowingly consume on average 10 kilograms of palm oil each year and unclear food labelling makes it hard for people to exercise their consumer choice. There is an organised movement for mandatory palm oil labelling for food to become a reality in Australia. Recently a proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Palm Oil) Bill was rejected by the House of Economics Committee. However, this year, we hope that with public pressure, this legislation will pass through government. Amongst many important issues, a provision within the bill mandates that retailers and manufacturers label their product as containing ‘CS Palm Oil’ if the product contains sustainable palm oil in accordance with the RSPO’s standards. Once palm oil is labelled, we can actually drive a market for CSPO.

Where can I find palm oil free products?

Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) has list of palm oil free alternatives.

What can I do to help?

Write to your local MP

Let them know your stance on palm oil labelling. Ask what they are doing to make labelling mandatory. Sample letters are available on the Palm Oil Action site. Visit Nick Xenophon's Truth in Labelling website for progress on the campaign to have palm oil compulsorily labelled in Australia.

Write to the manufacturers of your favourite products

Check the ingredients.  If a food product contains palm oil (usually labelled as vegetable oil or fat), check with the manufacturer as to whether they use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (being a member of the RSPO is different to sourcing CSPO). You should then ask for a copy of the certification. If they cannot produce this, let the company know you will not be buying any more products from them until they prove they are using CSPO or another sustainable ingredient, and seek an alternative product. (Don’t forget to ask your favourite fast food suppliers as well).

Join the Australian Orangutan Project and donate what you can

You can do this by “adopting” an orangutan or giving money to help this organisation to purchase a large block of rainforest in Borneo.

Inform your family, friends and colleagues of the issue

Send them a link to this page, we’ve tried to round up the best sources on the issue of palm oil in Australia. Remember, public pressure can bring change! Complaints recently led Cadbury to remove palm oil from its dairy milk chocolate range in Australia and New Zealand! You can make a difference!

Sources: WWF, BOS Australia, Zoos Victoria, Truth in Labelling

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