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Sustainability? Not so focal for supplements, says palm oil firm

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+

Last updated on 13-May-2014 at 12:22 GMT2014-05-13T12:22:26Z

Palm oil firm says sustainability not so focal for supplements

Sustainability is not such an important issue for the supplements industry, because of the relatively low ingredient volumes involved and a difference in industry priorities, Malaysia-based Carotech has said.

Dr Sharon Ling, vice president of the firm that specialises in vitamin E forms and carotenoids derived from red palm oil, told NutraIngredients that the supplement sector focus fell much more heavily on nutrition science as opposed to issues like sustainability given lower ingredient volumes.

When asked if the company had come across any barriers given ongoing environmental concerns around the raw material such as rainforest depletion, Dr Ling said while sustainability was important for the firm, it was not a central focus for the industry as a whole.

"It depends, I think the barrier, or wall, is maybe more seen in the food industry rather than the food supplements industry," she told us at Vitafoods Europe in Geneva last week. "In the food supplements or dietary supplements industry people are more on the clinical trials or what the benefits of it are rather than the sustainability issues."

A question of volume

She said relatively low raw material volumes used in food supplements largely took sustainability out of the question.

"Of course it is true that sustainability is something that everyone cares about and we should do that as well," she said.

"But the concern is more on the food industry because the volume is so big. Whereas in the dietary supplement industry it's more the concentrated extracts, rather than palm oil as a cooking oil."

Science and claims were bigger issues at this moment, she said.

Carotech makes supplements from red palm oil, the edible oil from palm fruits. The oil is rich in tocotrienols – a form of vitamin E – and carotenoids, and has been linked to various benefits such as brain health.

Nevertheless she said environmental issues were still important to Carotech, which is a member of the certification board, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil  (RSPO), and sources its red palm oil from other RSPO members. She said the raw material was grown mostly on ex-rubber producing sites on the Malaysian peninsula.

“The peninsula is the more developed part of Malaysia whereas the Sabah is more tropical forests, so that’s where you have the concern of deforestation and clearing of the forest with plantations."

Earlier this year FoodNavigator reported that the palm oil supply chain had reached a sustainability tipping point after a major palm oil producer, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), became the latest to commit to forest conservation. In theory this meant that for the first time the majority of the world’s palm oil was sustainably sourced. 

Meanwhile groups such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) have accused food firms like Mars and PepsiCo of supporting " weak" and "diluted " RSPO standards and kidding themselves and consumers with the purchase of GreenPalm certificates.

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