What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable fat obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. Palm oil contains a high proportion of saturated fat. This is unusual as most vegetable fats do not contain high proportions of saturated fats; however there are exceptions such as palm oil and coconut oil.
There have been calls for palm oil to be labelled due to health as well as environmental concerns.
What are the current regulations for labelling palm oil?
Under current regulations palm oil can be labelled using generic terms such as 'vegetable oil'. However, food manufacturers can voluntarily label palm oil, or use sustainably sourced palm oil.
Regulations do however require the declaration of certain nutrients in the nutrition information panel
on food labels, including saturated fat. The total amount of saturated fat from all the ingredients in a food (including palm oil if it is used) must be declared. Using the nutrition information panel can help consumers make healthier food choices.
FSANZ has previously rejected an application for mandatory ingredient labelling of palm oil when used in food products because the application was about environmental concerns.
What are manufacturers doing about palm oil?
Many food manufacturers are voluntarily labelling their products and some companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
, which promotes the supply of palm oil sourced from eco‑friendly areas.
You can also check with manufacturers about what type of oil they use.
What is the Government doing about this issue?
In January 2011, an independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy presented 61 recommendations to food regulation ministers for action. Under recommendation 12, the review panel recommended a number of changes to the way that added sugars, added fats and added vegetable oils, including palm oil, are declared.
In December 2011, ministers endorsed a whole of government response and asked FSANZ to provide technical evaluation and advice on recommendation 12, to help ministers consider the expected benefits and possible effects before considering any changes to the Food Standards Code.
This comprehensive body of work is nearing completion and is expected to be provided to ministers in late 2016. Ministers will decide on the next steps and whether any further action should occur.
More information on how Australia’s safe food system works is available here.