Blog: Dean BestPalm oil scheme GreenPalm plants a rare green flag at SIAL

Dean Best | 18 October 2010

The SIAL exhibition was still quiet an hour after the doors opened at 08:30 this morning - a clear sign that the strikes are affecting people's journeys into the show - but it provided just-food an opportunity to talk to a rare exhibitor at a food-industry event - a 'green' company.

UK-based Book & Claim is a subsidiary of Sweden-based food-ingredients giant AAK but is perhaps best known for GreenPalm, a certification scheme designed to encourage the production of "sustainable" palm oil.

GreenPalm works by giving palm oil producers certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil a GreenPalm certificate for each tonne of palm oil they produce sustainably.

Manufacturers and retailers - from Mars Inc to Marks and Spencer - then bid for and buy the certificates online as a means of encouraging the production of sustainable palm oil.

The palm oil actually used may in fact be conventional palm oil and not necessarily from sustainable sources but Book & Claim's general manager Bob Norman told just-food that the aim of the scheme was to demonstrate to palm-oil growers that there is demand for products from sustainable sources - and encourage them to invest in ensuring their output is sustainable in the future.

"You're bringing rewards and incentives to those producers in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea to produce sustainably," Norman said.

Demand for sustainable palm oil is growing. A quick look at the GreenPalm trading platform demonstrates that companies are buying more certificates and the one millionth certificate was recently traded.

Some consumer campaigners have labelled the scheme as greenwash but Norman insists GreenPalm is supporting sustainable production. There are critics, however, who will point that, despite the claims of support given to growers to produce sustainable palm oil, the actual oil used could usually be the conventional stuff.

Norman argues that the GreenPalm scheme is clear. "We're at a pains to say that it's not a physical sustainable supply chain. It's a claim that you're supporting production, not that your products contain [sustainable palm oil]. At the end of the day, a volume of sustainable palm oil is being supported whether it comes physically - incurring additonal supply chain costs - or is being consumed by somebody else."

Norman said GreenPalm's presence at SIAL was a bid to encourage more manufacturers and retailers in Europe to join the scheme. Palm oil is an emotive subject in many markets but, in France for example, consumers are hearing mixed messages, with Carrefour committing to sustainable sources while rival Casino has pledged to remove the ingredient from hundreds of its own-label lines.

"The UK market is pretty sophisticated. UK retailers have got their plans in place and in the public domain. The European retailers are beginning to review their policies. We're here to offer advice and education to French producers. This is an ideal environment to put the message out and say that there are options," Norman said. "I'm here to promote GreenPalm but I'm here to promote the RSPO and if somebody wants to discuss a segregated supply-chain option I'm happy to go through that with them."

just-food's second day at SIAL also took in interviews with Moy Park, the European arm of Brazil-based meat giant Marfrig (who used their recent sponsorship deal at the football World Cup to display a replica of the World Cup trophy at their stand), Japan-based food-ingredients group Ajinomoto and Swiss dairy firm Emmi, the company behind brands like Emmi Caffe Latte and Kaltbach cheese. Keep your eyes peeled for more on these interviews - and on GreenPalm - in the days ahead.

SIAL grew typically busier throughout the day and, by 5pm, the queues for taxi away from the event were, like yesterday, long and winding. With France set for a general strike tomorrow, however, it is uncertain how the fair will fare.


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