Cut-throat competition between British grocers is hampering the UK’s switch to sustainable palm oil.

That’s the verdict of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) secretary general Darrel Webber, who is calling on the UK grocery industry to embrace a new spirit of co-operation to ensure adequate supplies of segregated sustainable palm oil make it into the country.

Palm oil is an ingredient in about half of all grocery products. Using 100% segregated palm oil is the only way manufacturers can guarantee the palm oil they use has not been grown on land cleared of virgin rainforest in the tropics.

“In the Netherlands, retailers, manufacturers and palm oil refiners are talking to each other and trying to align their requirements - that’s happening in Belgium, Germany and France but it’s not happening in the UK,” said Webber.

“It’s strange. Maybe the competition here is too tough. Maybe retailers see differentiation from the competition as too important. They really need to think about co-operation.”

Webber added that the Netherlands was the only country to have run a full audit of its palm oil use, which showed about 30% of the oil it uses is RSPO-certified segregated, up from 22% last year. Better auditing in other countries was vital if viable supply chains were to be established, said Webber.

Booming global demand for palm oil is fuelling deforestation, threatening species such as the orangutan with extinction. In December, an investigation by The Grocer revealed how ‘slash and burn’ clearance to make way for plantations in Sumatra - a key growing region - was at a six-year high.

The RSPO will hold its first-ever European summit in Berlin in June to raise awareness of the issue and encourage better supply of segregated oil across Europe.