British food companies will be able to use corn oil in place of sunflower oil without making any changes to labels, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have announced.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the top sunflower oil exporter in the world, has severely disrupted the supply chain of the widely-used ingredient. Corn oil will be used as an alternative in various food items, including frozen foods, crisps and cookies.
Consumers have already been advised to look out for refined rapeseed oil, fully refined coconut oil, soybean oil and palm oil, which are now being used by many food producers instead of sunflower oil – also without any label changes.
Emily Miles, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency said: “We have added corn oil to the list of oils included in our advice because it is a healthier alternative than some of the other oils we had previously listed. We are also reminding businesses to use healthier and more sustainable oils if substituting.”
While there has been some concern regarding the impact to people suffering from allergies, the FSA has said in its guidance: “Our findings show that the risk of allergic reactions from the substitute oils on the list is very low and for fully refined soybean oil it is negligible, which means that allergic reactions to these fully refined vegetable oils are very rare and – if they do occur – are mild.”
Sunflower oil is typically exported from Ukraine via its seaports, which have been blocked by Russia since the invasion began in February. Because the UK imports most of its sunflower oil from Ukraine, supermarkets have been hugely impacted by the conflict.
Since April 2022, some supermarkets have had to ration the sale of cooking oil, with Tesco customers being limited to purchasing three bottles per person. Only two items are allowed per person in Waitrose and Morrisons, whilst Iceland has restricted the sale of its cooking oil to one bottle per customer.
Miles added: “We continue to expect food businesses to make sure consumers are aware of any potential oil substitutions that are not reflected on the label, such as through point-of-sale notices and information on their websites.”