Our labelling laws make it easy for supermarkets to hide palm oil in your hot cross buns.
By Rebecca Styles
Hot cross buns are a classic Easter treat. However, at some supermarket bakeries it’s impossible to tell from the label if your buns contain palm oil or not.
At New World and Pak’nSave, both part of the Foodstuffs stable, not all the hot cross buns from their bakeries have an ingredients list (products made in-store don’t require one). Those that do might just list “vegetable oil” – a catch-all label for any oil derived from vegetables.
Could it be palm oil? Yes. A Foodstuffs spokesperson confirmed some of its in-store bakeries used palm oil.
At Countdown, palm oil is used in its Brioche Fruit, Brioche Chocolate, and Choco Mini Brioche hot cross buns. The store’s other hot cross buns are made with canola oil. Unlike New World and Pak’nSave, Countdown’s buns have ingredients listed on the packs.
Behind the label
Hot cross buns are far from the only product where palm oil may be lurking. If the ingredients list states the food contains “vegetable oil”, there’s a good chance it’s palm oil.
Manufacturers love palm oil because it’s cheap and versatile. However, it comes with a huge environmental cost. Palm oil plantations in Indonesia threaten the habitat of Sumatran tigers, rhinos and orangutans. Globally, palm oil production generates 9% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Both Countdown and Foodstuffs belong to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a largely industry-led initiative set up to certify “good” oil.
However, the RSPO has come under fire for its certification system, which doesn’t guarantee the oil that ends up in consumer products is sustainably sourced.
Foodstuffs uses RSPO palm oil certified as “mass balance”. Mass balance oil contains certified palm oil mixed with non-certified stuff.
Where palm oil is an ingredient in Foodstuff’s Pams and Budget brand foods, it’s listed on the label. However, that’s not always the case for bakery products made on-site.
Countdown uses both mass balance and RSPO “segregated” palm oil in its products. The latter is certified palm oil that can be traced to mills.
A Countdown spokesperson said where palm oil is used in its products, it’s listed on the label.
We’ve been calling for labelling rules that would require manufacturers to disclose whether there’s palm oil in their products.
There’s strong support for better labelling. Our 2018 survey found 68% of consumers thought palm oil labelling should be mandatory.
A 2011 review of food labelling laws also recommended added oils be listed on product labels.
In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation met to discuss the recommendation. But there’s been no progress since.
We think it should be an easy decision: just label it.
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