McDonald’s Corp. has officially joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets criteria for improving the social and environmental performance of palm oil production.
The move bolsters the RSPO, which has recently been joined by other major companies, including Walmart, The Hershey Company, and Citigroup, and has seen uptake of its certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) increase.
McDonald’s membership comes under its Sustainable Land Management Commitment (SLMC) announced earlier this year. The initiative aims to reduce the environmental impact of commodities McDonald’s uses in its food products. SLMC is starting with beef, poulty, coffee, palm oil, and fiber for packaging.
“Participating in multi-stakeholder engagements such as the RSPO is one way for us to put the power and leadership of McDonald’s behind commitments to continue to source sustainable ingredients such as palm oil,” said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s vice president, Worldwide Strategic Sourcing, in a statement. “Sustainability issues as they relate to food are often confusing to consumers, and we can help lead the way by educating our customers on how our food is sourced.”
While palm oil is a highly productive crop, yielding more oil per unit of area than any other oilseed, it has been targeted by environmentalists because its production has at times taken a heavy toll on wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peat swamps in Indonesia and Malaysia. The RSPO is the palm oil industry’s response to these concerns.
McDonald’s says it primarily uses palm oil as a cooking oil for its operations in Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America.
RSPO welcomed the approval of McDonald’s membership.
“We are extremely pleased that McDonald’s is making significant headway in showing its commitment toward the sustainable sourcing of its food ingredients,” said Darrel Webber, RSPO Secretary General. “The fact that one of the world’s largest consumer brands commits to the growth and use of sustainable palm oil is an important reflection of the increasing demand for sustainable palm oil in consumer markets.”
The RSPO has been shipping palm oil to Europe since 2008. The first shipment arrived in the U.S. last year. Since shipments are still limited, many companies in the U.S. rely on buying GreenPalm certificates, which represent physical palm oil certified under the RSPO and allow companies to financially support “sustainable” palm oil even if their actual sources are not sustainably certified.
Supporters of the RSPO see the certification scheme as a means to create financial incentives for greener palm oil production. However some environmentalists remain skeptical that criteria are strong enough to avoid abuses by members.
In the past 18 months, the RSPO has taken action against a handful of non-compliant members, including Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, PT SMART, which is owned by Golden Agri Reoucres (GAR). GAR has since announced a comprehensive forest policy that prohibits conversion of land with more than 35 tons of carbon per hectare and requires free, prior informed consent (FPIC) in interacting with local communities.
The RSPO holds annual meetings to examine certification criteria and other issues relating to palm oil production. The next meeting will be held in Malaysia from November 22 – 24.
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