What the Consumer Goods Forum must do about "embedded" palm oil in dairy products.

By Rainforest Action Network

Palm oil is one of the most widely used product ingredients in the world, found in roughly half of all consumer goods. It is also one of the most destructive: According to recent reports, palm oil contributes more to tropical deforestation than any other commodity that Americans consume.

And the uses of palm oil are growing — our latest report, Feeding Deforestation, finds that palm oil is showing up more and more in animal feed for dairy cows. In fact, palm oil-based animal feed is now the largest palm oil import into the US, meaning staple dairy products like milk and cheese increasingly contain “embedded” palm oil.

Problematically, major consumer goods companies, including Mondelēz, Nestlé, Mars and Ferrero, do not account for palm oil-based feed in their “deforestation-free” commitments. Additionally, 15 of the 17 companies that import palm oil-based feed into the US do not have “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” (NDPE) policies, meaning their imports are more likely to be connected to deforestation and human rights abuses.

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a network of the world’s largest consumer goods brands, is uniquely positioned to ensure that major companies mitigate the growing risks to rainforests and frontline communities associated with palm oil-based animal feed, especially by encouraging CGF members to include “embedded” palm oil in their NDPE policies. So far, the CGF has failed to do so.

Key findings of our Feeding Deforestation report include:

  • Palm oil-based animal feed makes up a massive amount of US palm oil imports. 36% (nearly two million tons) of all palm oil imports into the USA by weight were made up of feed-grade palm oil products, making it the single largest imported palm oil product category in 2022.
  • Companies are excluding millions of tons of palm oil from the accounting of their supply chains and from their NDPE policies. Thirteen out of 14 of the largest dairy processing and consumer goods companies analyzed do not provide information about how much palm oil-based animal feed is used in their supply chains or include embedded palm oil in the scope of their NDPE policies.
  • A significant percentage of US imports of palm oil-based animal feed is not covered by NDPE policies. Fifteen of 17 US companies identified as importing palm oil-based animal feed do not have public NDPE policies. They account for 84% of the imports by weight, where importers and exporters could be identified. Fifteen of the 24 identified exporting companies did not have public NDPE policies, accounting for two-thirds of exports to the US by weight, where importers and exporters could be identified.
  • Deforestation-free claims are inaccurate or misleading. Five of the companies included in the analysis make claims of having achieved deforestation-free supply chains, which are inaccurate or misleading since they do not account for deforestation potentially linked to their suppliers’ use of palm oil-based animal feed. RAN estimates that the claims that Nestlé makes to be 96% deforestation-free, for instance, could drop to 72% deforestation-free (of crude palm oil equivalent) if the company accounted for the embedded palm oil in its supply chain. Nestlé stated they considered the figure incorrect, see the full report for their response.