United Biscuits, the UK group behind McVitie’s and Jacob’s, has become the latest in a growing line of food manufacturers and retailers to announce a deal on sustainable palm oil.

This week, Marks and Spencer and Nestle have announced separate commitments on palm oil.

Environmental campaigners have criticised the world’s food companies for playing in a part in destroying rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia through their sourcing of palm oil.

On Wednesday (28 October), green campaigners the WWF published a “scorecard” of companies making progress on sustainable sourcing – and of others who have yet to act.

United Biscuits said this morning that it had struck an agreement with UK-listed New Britain Palm Oil to secure the raw material in a more sustainable way.

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Dr Simon Roulston, United Biscuits’ oils sourcing manager, said the contract would cover “the majority” of the company’s oil needs. He said the deal would help the business move towards its goal of sourcing all of its palm oil in a “segregated and sustainable” manner by the end of 2011.

Campaigners have urged for a more segregated supply chain amid fears that, under apparently sustainable initiatives like the GreenPalm certification scheme, green palm oil is transported in the same containers as the standard form of the commodity.

United Biscuits’ deal with New Britain Palm Oil is the processor’s first deal for its UK refinery in Liverpool. The site is scheduled to be completed next spring and New Britain Palm Oil has promised a “dedicated supply source” from its plantations to the refinery.

“Our investment in our UK palm oil refinery is all about giving consumers the assurance that the products that they want to buy can now actually be made from affordable, segregated, traceable and certified sustainable palm oil, which New Britain Palm Oil believes is often a better alternative to certificate trading schemes, such as GreenPalm,” said Alan Chaytor, executive director for the palm oil producer.

United Biscuits said it is due to receive its first delivery of oil from New Britain Palm Oil in December. The company added that by mid-2010 any of its branded biscuits containing palm oil will be made with sustainable palm oil.

“UB has a clear goal to only use segregated, sustainable palm oil so that we can be sure that the palm oil in our products is the oil from the sustainable plantations,” Dr Roulston said.

“To this end we will have, by mid-2010, two thirds of all palm oil and palm oil-based ingredients sourced from segregated and sustainable sources with the remainder from un-segregated but still sustainable sources. By the end of 2011, we aim to have 100% of our palm oil sourced on a segregated and sustainable basis.”