KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - A senior official at the palm oil industry's main green label has urged an Australian confectionery giant to be "responsible" and work with ethical producers after it became the country's first major supermarket brand to ditch the tropical oil as an ingredient.
Darrell Lea, which has been making chocolate since 1927, last week said it had replaced palm oil as an ingredient across its entire range, citing deforestation and risks to endangered animals, in response to customer demand.
It will now use sunflower oil in its products instead.
"Our consumers are well-educated and over the years they have been very vocal about their views on palm oil," said Mr Tim Stanford, marketing director at Darrell Lea.
Palm oil, the world's most widely used edible oil, is found in everything from margarine to soap.
But green groups say its production has led to forests being cleared for oil palm plantations, and to fires and worker exploitation.
"Continuing to use sustainable palm oil has always been an option for us, but the level of consumer enquiry we received encouraged us to explore a world without it," Mr Stanford told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
"We're very happy with our decision to remove palm oil completely and we know our consumers are thrilled," he added.
Darrell Lea - which previously used palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry's global watchdog - announced its new policy with a video advertisement of an orangutan drumming to the George Michael hit Freedom.
The ad has attracted almost 250,000 views on YouTube.
Darrell Lea is not the only large food manufacturer to ditch palm oil. British supermarket chain Iceland removed the oil from its own-brand food at the end of 2018, while Kraft Heinz launched a palm-oil-free hazelnut spread in Canada earlier this year.
To counter such moves, the RSPO has adopted stricter guidelines for palm oil production, including a ban on cutting down forests or using carbon-rich peatlands for plantations.
Many big buyers of palm oil, besides purchasing certified-sustainable oil, have also invested in technologies to help monitor their oil's supply chains and stop deforestation.
"Sustainable palm oil is here to stay and is gaining not only recognition but also traction globally," said RSPO co-chair Carl Bek-Nielsen, who also runs Malaysia-based United Plantations.
Palm trees produce four to 10 times more oil than other vegetable oil crops per unit of cultivated land, and Mr Bek-Nielsen said switching to alternative vegetable oils could cause more harm to the environment and biodiversity.
He urged Darrell Lea to "be responsible and take ownership through engagement" with the palm oil industry, noting that sustainability is a "shared problem".
"Companies are, of course, free to decide what they want to do. Some will wish to... be a part of the solution while others would prefer to disengage, taking the easy way out."