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    Oct 09, 2015

    Palm oil in your grocery items could be from haze culprits

    PAPER products may just be the tip of the iceberg: Many grocery items here could come from plantations that contribute to the haze.

    In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Stefano Savi from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) said that about half of the products on supermarket shelves here contain palm oil - from toothpaste and cosmetics to bread and frozen french fries.

    Mr Savi, the global outreach and engagement director of RSPO, a palm oil certification body, added that as much as 80 per cent of global palm oil is uncertified.

    "While we are sure about the origins and the sustainability criteria under which 20 per cent of global palm oil is produced, we are not able to claim the same for the other 80 per cent," he said, adding that the 1,400 fires that happened in Indonesia in the whole of last month were within oil palm plantations.

    Errant oil palm plantation owners set fire to adjacent forests to open up new land for growing. Some also use this method to clear their plantations after a crop cycle.

    Culprits are difficult to trace as supply chain processes are muddied by factors such as a lack of land ownership information in Indonesia and bulk processing, in which fruits from hundreds of small plantations are trucked to a central mill where they are mixed up.

    There are 19 firms in Singapore with RSPO certification, including instant noodle maker Tat Hui Foods and consumer products company Procter & Gamble.

    RSPO does not track the products of its certified organisations but Mr Savi, who is based in RSPO's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, reckons that only a handful of products here have its mark.

    The low take-up rate could be due to several reasons, he said.

    Palm oil typically makes up just a small part of the formulation of a product, so few firms think it is necessary to use sustainable supplies. Distributors who want to sell RSPO certified products will also need to get their supplies from RSPO certified mills and growers.

    "Also, in certain markets, palm oil is not perceived positively, so companies won't want to emphasise that palm oil is in their products at all," he added. Around a fifth of the world's palm oil is now certified by RSPO.

    The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) - which has awarded green labels to over 3,000 products here - does not currently certify palm oil-based products here, but plans to do so by early next year.

    "Not many firms here have RSPO certification, so we are looking to move into that sector because palm oil is used in so many products," said SEC's head of eco-certification, Kavickumar Muruganathan.

    When contacted, World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore director of communications Kim Stengert said there is not yet a range of certified sustainable palm oil products available here. 

    "At this stage, if all the non-certified palm oil products were taken off the shelves, we would have very empty supermarkets," he said. "Consumers need to be able to express their preference for sustainable palm oil through their purchasing decisions."