Palm Oil Con Job: The Sneakiest Ingredient At Your Local Supermarket

Palm Oil Con Job: The Sneakiest Ingredient At Your Local Supermarket

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.

Gaming picture from Shutterstock

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.

See also: How To Choose The Right Oil For Every Recipe | How To Fearlessly Deep Fry Just About Anything | Banish Gross Bin Odours With Sesame Oil


  • FSANZ are clearly a bunch of wallies who should create a real standard instead of a sham one to support industry instead of consumers.

    • Palm is a plant, the oil from that plant is just as accurately Vegetable Oil as oil sourced from any other plant.
      The issue that Palm Oil has become a political minefield doesn’t make Palm Oil somehow not a Vegetable Oil.

      • I don’t think the issue is that it isn’t vegetable oil, stevothedevo.

        The issue is that a lot of consumers want to know if the vegetable oil they’re consuming is one of the better varieties or the one destroying Orangutan houses.

        • One day I Imagine the only animals left on this planet will be the ones in zoo’s.

          Not only are we knocking down trees for palm plantations but we clear so much land for farming wheat, barley, rice etc. As our population goes up so does the need for those foods; we’ve seriously fucked ourselves in the long run.

        • See, as a scientist that whole naming conundrum is pretty funny. I look at olive and canola oil being marketed as vegetable oil and laugh heartily, as neither rapeseed (the oil-seed used to produce canola oil), olives are actually vegetables. They’re seed and fruits, respectively. The same goes for the palm fruit pulp used to produce palm oil.

          More correctly, canola, olive and palm oils are fruit oils.

          • Thank you Kizza. I’m no scientist but I have always said exactly what you have written. If the oil is made from the fruit then surely it is a fruit oil!

  • Ironically, I’d rather by a product containing palm oil that’s labelled correctly, over one that contains it but hides the fact.

    By purchasing products that outwardly contain palm oil, you’re encouraging accurate labelling, and a better future for everyone.

  • If you’d like to talk about sneaky, how about the fact that it’s ten times more productive than any other oil crop? You get ten times the oil per hectare from oil palms than anything else. So no matter what other oil crop you would plant in its stead, you would need to clear AT LEAST ten times the amount of forest to get the same amount of oil.

    Who is being dishonest? The palm oil boycotters, mostly.

    • This is the Palm Oil industry position.
      The disappointing thing is that despite the political pressure, they have done very little to promote more sustainable practices.
      The slash, burn, grow and discard practice that is the current method is a disgrace to the industry and it ought to be at the top of their priority list, but nothing (or at least not nearly enough) has happened in the 4 years since I first heard that argument from the industry.

    • Just as well we have already slashed and burned our way through most of the native vegetation here in Australia to plant wheat / run sheep / cattle etc. Pesky Indonesians wanting to do the same thing!!

      • I can only partially agree with you Chris. We didn’t slash and burn huge rainforests here in Australia to make way for farming,

    • Olives are an oil crop, aren’t they? Roughly 2.8kL per hectare, compared to palm oil’s 2.9kL per hectare (3250kg at .89kg/L density). And olives can be grown in places that don’t require destroying vast swathes of rainforest.

      Most other oil crops don’t need to have rainforest destroyed to be grown, so no, you wouldn’t need to clear ten times the amount of forest to get the same amount of oil.

      Who is being dishonest?

    • so illegal deforestation and slash & burn of the environment throughout south east Asia is fine by you Stuart? I guess that the extinction of many species is OK by you as well? Talk about being dishonest ya fuckin tool…..

    • I weep for the future of this planet when I read comments like this and see it upvoted.

  • The healthiness or unhealthiness of palm oil depends on whether it has been oxidised.

    Red palm oil is actually very healthy and has numerous benefits (carotenoids, decreases LDL), high smoke point (avoiding the carconogenic and other negative affects of breaking down an oil). It’s hard to find though.

    I doubt the palm oil being discussed in this report is of similar quality however there are indeed some benefits to low quality palm oil (high smoke point).

    Unfortunately the very large environmental impact of red palm oil makes it ethically problematic.

    I’d be curious to find out FSANZ’s reasoning for allowing palm oil to be labelled as a vegetable oil.

    • I use Red Palm Oil or Coconut Oil for most of my cooking; you can find it at Woolies (In Victoria at least). From Memory, it’s produced in Queensland.

      • Thanks for the tip bro. I’ve managed to find coconut oil but I’ll keep an eye out at Woolies for the red palm oil.

  • This posting is off-topic, but worth mentioning.

    I would rather have PALM OIL any day than eat food imported from China. China have a =repeated= track record of putting melamine in their food. Not only is melamine very poisonous, but it builds up in your system and your body can not get rid of it, so it kills you fairly quickly – and you experience the side effects for the rest of your life (well, at least of the shortened life you have).
    The problem is that you can’t tell which foods come from China because of embarrassingly lax labelling laws. The statements “from imported and local ingredients” or “from local and imported ingredients” should be banned because what it really means is “less than 1% of the ingredients are Australian” and “we don’t want to tell you where the other ingredients are from”. It means that it’s impossible for me to protect my family unless I buy a very small percentage of food on the market.

    On a scale of 1 to 10 of severity, palm oil is a 1. Melamine is a 10.

    • I’m picking tin foil plays a big part in protecting your family too. As long as it’s not from China of course.

    • The current labelling laws are in need of a big change, there is some stuff happening, BUT ya know it takes time……

      • Mandatory QR codes and a national database tracking all of the ingredients included in each product. Bam. Anyone with a smartphone now has instant access to the environmental, social, health and safety impact of every product on the market. Now we can all make informed decisions about where our money is going and what we are putting into our bodies. The consumer can protect itself and the industry is instantaneously forced to assume responsibility for its conduct.

        We have the technology to do this. Why hasn’t it already happened?

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!