The majority of products containing palm oil in Australia erroneously label the ingredient as "vegetable oil", a CHOICE investigation has found. Everything from shampoo to Coca Cola secretly contains this ingredient which is considered less safe for both your heart and the environment at large.
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Palm oil production is one of the most prodigious food industries in the world, with 130,000 tonnes imported into Australia annually. However, it is also considered environmentally unsafe due to the large amounts of deforestation it causes.
“Unfortunately only 14 per cent of palm oil produced is sustainable, and deforestation is resulting in catastrophic environmental damage," a CHOICE spokesperson explained. "Additionally, it has a saturated fat content of 51%, which fares poorly in comparison to other vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower and olive."
In a trend that we're sure is purely coincidental (read: sarcasm), most food manufacturers in Australia currently mask the ingredient under the generic phrase 'vegetable oil'.
"On your next trip to the supermarket consider this; around 50% of the packaged products on the shelves contain palm oil. You’d never know this though, as Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) allow it to be labelled as vegetable oil," CHOICE explained in a statement.
The CHOICE report found that many leading grocery brands, including Arnott’s, Coca Cola and Nestle have adopted this practice. This is at odds with the labeling laws in the USA, Canada and many parts of Europe which require palm oil to be correctly identified on packaging.
On the plus side, house brands from Coles and Woolworths were found to be more honest, with palm oil correctly labelled as such. Budget supermarket brand Aldi was less scrupulous however, with palm oil labelled as vegetable oil.
In its report, CHOICE argues that all products need to introduce accurate labeling to help consumers make informed decisions and avoid palm oil should they want to.
“For a product with such high levels of saturated fat, we think it is important to clearly and specifically label, rather than leave it up to the consumer to decipher fat levels on the nutritional panel."
If you don't give a damn about the environment and just care about personal health, the absence of palm oil labeling isn't really that big of a deal: as CHOICE points out in its report, you can easily decipher whether a product contains palm oil by simply looking at the amount of saturated fat on a product's nutritional panel.
It's also worth noting that palm oil has a high temperature tolerance, which makes it an affordable (albeit unhealthy) option for deep frying. That said, it would be nice to be able to tell at a glance whether a product contains the ingredient -- especially for ethical shoppers.