I'm trying to reduce my consumption of palm oil because palm oil production is responsible for deforestation, large forest fires and loss of biodiversity. The problem is that palm oil is present in many food and non-food products under many different names and it's sometimes difficult to find a good alternative.

When I can't find an alternative product without palm oil, I try to find one with a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Standard (RSPO) label because I know it's somewhat better than non-certified products. Even if RSPO standards are low it's probably the best label there is. It's more strict than the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Standard (ISPO) and the Malaysian Palm Oil Standard (MSPO), at least according to this comparison. Unfortunately products with a RSPO label are scarce where I live (The Netherlands / Europe), but there are quite a lot of products with certified organic palm oil.

My question is: how environmentally friendly is organic palm oil, certified according to EU regulations? How does it compare to RSPO-certified oil and to products without any label?

  • 1
    Based on the discussion here, it seems the chief sustainability concern for palm oil is deforestation, which wouldn't be affected by organic farming practices, from my understanding. Would a Rainforest Alliance certification be more applicable in this case?
    – LShaver
    Jan 10, 2017 at 16:56
  • "Before the Flood" is a 2016 climate change NatGeo documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio that I watched a few days ago on Netflix. About 46 minutes in it covers the issue of Indonesian rainforests being cleared to make way for Palm Oil plantations. Just in case folks want a video summary of the issue.
    – Tim
    Oct 2, 2018 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


I recently found more information about this, so I'll self-answer. While pesticide can have a big impact on the environment, the biggest problem with palm oil seems to be the clearing of rainforests.

Organic label

This webpage says:

While organic farming prohibits the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and genetic engineering, organic labels do not establish standards against rainforest destruction and land grabbing. Furthermore, vast industrial monocultures – including those that fulfill organic production standards – can hardly be deemed environmentally sound.

and as an example they say that

Agro Palma – the largest palm oil producer in Brazil – states that it operates 39,000 hectares of oil palm plantations on former rainforest land in the state of Pará in the Amazon. Its certified organic palm oil is produced on the 4,107-hectare Hacienda CPA

This implies that forests have been cleared for organic palm plantations. Of course this is only 1 viewpoint, but I haven't been able to find any other sources that backup or refute the claims that are made. So it seems LShaver is correct with his comment that organic-certified palm oil is no guarantee for a sustainable, low-environmental impact product.

RSPO label

The same article also says that the RSPO label is hardly a guarantee either;

The RSPO does not rule out the clearing of rainforest. Only primary and “high conservation value” (HCV) forests have been considered off-limits for palm oil plantations under the label since November 2005. An internationally recognized definition of HCV areas has not been established, however, and the transitions between primary and secondary rainforests are blurred in practice.

Rainforest Alliance label

The Rainforest Alliance says that

the clearing of natural forests is forbidden on Rainforest Alliance Certified oil palm plantations, which helps to protect the habitat of endangered wildlife such as orangutans. And farmers we work with who once relied on harmful pesticides and chemicals are now reducing or eliminating these harmful substances and replacing them with ecologically sound alternatives.

This treehugger blog confirms the above. I haven't been able to find any reports that say that for palm oil Rainforest Alliance does not live up to their claims, so it looks like a Rainforest Alliance label is best of the 3 labels from an overall-sustainability point of view.

Note: Boycotting palm oil all together is not a solution because companies would need to switch to alternative oils which will require more agricultural land for an equivalent yield (see also https://www.huiledepalmedurable.org/le-boycott-est-il-la-solution/?lang=en)

  • I had to look up RSPO -- seems like it's a way for palm oil producers to "greenwash" some of their less palatable tactics.
    – LShaver
    Oct 1, 2018 at 13:42
  • @LShaver Yes, RSPO has gotten so much criticism that it looks like it's more greenwashing than an actual certification label. But then again it is probably slightly better than having no label at all. In any case I added a link to RSPO on Wikipedia that has more information.
    – THelper
    Oct 1, 2018 at 13:54

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