Palm oil

 November 14, 2022

Palm oil is a vegetable oil extracted by hot pressing from the pulp of the fruits of the oil palm, a tree native to tropical Africa from which palm kernel oil is also extracted, extracted from the kernel of its fruits.

Oil palm tree
Crédits : ©Sébastien Noël Licence Unsplash Enlarge image la figure 119
Oil palm tree

Image showing an oil palm tree.

Palm oil is the most produced and consumed vegetable oil, with the best yield per hectare, and whose physico-chemical properties are ideal for the food industry. As a result, worldwide, 80% of palm oil is used for food, only about 10% for cosmetics and derivatives and about 10% for biofuels. In the European Union, 49% of it is used for food and 34% for biofuels.

However, according to the European Commission’s Delegated Regulation of 13 March 2019, palm oil is a raw material that can present a high risk of indirect changes in land use ("CASI" effect). A gradual decline in biofuels from high-impact raw materials CASI is expected at European level, by the Directive 2018/2001 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, until reducing their consumption to 0% by 2030. France has anticipated this trend, excluding the eligibility of fuels based on palm oil (and acid distillates of palm oil called "PFAD") as biofuels from 2020.

The global palm oil market

The main palm oil producing countries in the world are Indonesia and Malaysia. Asia represents on average 88% of world production over the period 2012-202. Outside Asia and on a smaller scale, the main palm oil producing countries are Colombia, Nigeria, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador.

Overall annual production in 2021 is estimated at about 80 million tonnes of palm oil. 62% of the world’s palm oil production is exported.

The challenges of the palm oil sector in France

Annual imports of palm oil into France averaged 693,000 tonnes per year over the 2012-2021 period, or 10 kg per capita. The main countries of origin of palm oil imported into France are Indonesia (59% of French imports), Malaysia (26%), Papua New Guinea (5%) and Guatemala (2%).

Note that in France, since January 1, 2020, palm oil no longer benefits from the tax advantage of the incentive tax on the incorporation of biofuels (TIRIB provided for in Article 266 quindecies of the Customs Code).

The land footprint of palm oil

France’s palm oil imports on average use the equivalent of 198,000 hectares of land, or 30 m2 per capita (per year, over the period 2012-2021).

The role of palm oil in deforestation

Oil palm plantations are directly responsible for about 15% of total deforestation measured between 1990 and 2015 in Indonesia and 40% in Malaysia. Globally, the role of oil palm in deforestation is much smaller than in Southeast Asia where plantation development has been particularly intense. Between 1990 and 2008, about 2.3% of global deforestation was directly related to oil palm.

Sustainable palm oil

The development of certification standards for sustainable palm oil was initially motivated by the fight against deforestation and the preservation of biodiversity.
Since 2004, there has been the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a private voluntary certification initiative in which stakeholders in the sector have committed to building and applying sustainability criteria. In Malaysia and Indonesia, government certification standards ISPO (Indonesia) and MSPO (Malaysia) have been developed more recently. At the international level, the ISCC-EU is one of the leading international certification systems for the sustainability and quantification of greenhouse gas emissions of bio-based products.

Find out more (report in French) :

per capita palm oil is imported into France every year

of world palm oil production is used in food

of France’s land footprint is due to imports of palm

Sources :

  • SDES : Importations françaises de matières premières visées par la Stratégie nationale de lutte contre la déforestation importée entre 2012-2021 - Vers une empreinte terre de la France (Décembre 2023)
  • Comité Scientifique et Technique Forêt (CSTF)