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The Dutch branch of the NGO Friends of the Earth has denounced that “Neste’s suppliers have been responsible for the deforestation of at least 10,000 hectares of tropical forest in the period January 2019–June 2020. Moreover, almost 13,000 fire alerts involving these companies were documented on plantations in 2019.” 1

The Finnish oil company Neste “is the world’s largest biofuel producer and operates Europe’s largest biodiesel factory in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In 2019, the company processed 1.3 million tonnes of palm oil products. Neste’s palm oil supply predominantly originates in Malaysia and Indonesia…”

Palm oil and PFADi, a derivative, are widely used in the EU to produce biodiesel.

The Neste case shows how weak the EU certification system is. Although all palm oil destined for biodiesel production in the EU must be certified as sustainable, the reality is that the paper certification process fails to stop the use of palm oil from recently deforested areas. The same can be said about imported UCO (Used Cooking Oil), which contains little real UCO and lots of virgin palm oil of dubious sustainability pedigree.

These blatantly unsustainable fuels compete unfairly in the EU, against genuinely sustainable domestically produced biodiesel, and harm the reputation of biofuels in general. EU sourced biodiesel is produced under strict and well monitored sustainability criteria, contributes to reducing GHG emissions in transport, supports EU rural communities and reduces the EU’s feed protein deficit.

We have publicly called on the European Commission to act, and stop the importation of products from recently deforested areas, in particular palm oil. Paper certification by bodies outside direct EU control does not give sufficient guarantee. The European Parliament has taken the lead in formally demanding the European Commission to propose mandatory legislation. It is well overdue.

1 least-10-000-hectares-over-the-past-18-months

i PFAD – Palm Fatty Acid Distillate. While companies like Neste argue that any and all PFAD is a waste, the reality is that any additional volume of PFAD entering the EU is greenwashed palm oil by another name. In any case PFAD never is or was a waste. PFAD is “feed grade palm oil”- or oil with impurities that is absolutely suitable for feed – and until a decade ago all PFAD in the world was used for animal feed, including in the EU. This makes it no different than other oils used for biodiesel. Rapeseed, sunflower and soya oils have both food and feed grade qualities, and it is the feed grades of these that the EU biodiesel industry processes into renewable fuel, and not food grade oils. This highlights a breath-taking failure of EU biofuel policy – feed grade oils produced in Europe by European farmers with no nexus to deforestation or bad labour practices are vilified, but feed grade oil produced in Asia and associated directly with the exploitation of people and biodiversity is expertly recast by a certain group of lobbyists as the opposite of what it really is. If PFAD was correctly labelled “feed grade palm oil” instead of identified by an acronym no one understands, the reality of this greenwashing would be clear to all.