Sustainable Palm Oil?

You’ve probably came across Greenpeace’s last campaign “Kit Kat: give the orang-utan a break”.

If not here is the campaign’s video: Kit Kat: give the orang-utan a break



Have a break? from Greenpeace UK on Vimeo.

The campaign follows a report from Greenpeace which exposed that “the palm oil Nestlé uses in products like Kit Kat is sourced from what used to be rainforest in Indonesia, forest which is being destroyed faster than anywhere else on the planet. One of Nestlé’s suppliers, the giant Sinar Mas group, is responsible for a large part of this arboreal carnage and has a track record of appalling environmental and social practices, not only on its palm oil plantations but also, through its subsidiary APP, its pulp and paper ones.” Nestle has since published a press release on their website saying that they do “not buy palm oil from the Sinar Mas Group for any of our products, including Kit Kat” and that they commit themselves “to using only “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” by 2015”.

It is noteworthy that Unilever cancelled its $30 million annual contract with Sinar Mas in 2009, when Greenpeace brought evidence of Sinar Mas’ environmental destruction, thus narrowly avoiding the wrath of Greenpeace and a likely boycott. Unilever and Sainsbury’s have both said they would get all their palm oil from “sustainable sources” by 2015.

Over 43 million tons of palm oil is produced every year worldwide, being used as a major component in the production of food, biofuel, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and detergents. Most of the palm oil used in these products comes from tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia which are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations. The environmental cost of the production of this oil is huge in terms of climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Palm oil is used notably in the composition of vegetarian food to avoid using animal based products. If today more and more consumers are aware of the damages palm oil causes to the environment, it is quasi impossible for us to detect the presence of palm oil in everyday life products. Indeed rather than using the word “palm” oil, retailers and producers label it as “vegetable” oil (which can include palm or others type of oil such as soy oil).
The palm oil debate highlights the recurrent issue of intentionally misinformed consumers. And it seems that on this topic we can hardly trust big corporations to take the urgent actions required in order to halt irreversible environmental damages.
Sustainable Palm Oil?

“Palm oil from sustainable sources” refers to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification created in 2008 to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. RSPO’s aim is to help reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity and respect the livelihoods of rural communities. According to the WWF* Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2009: “Despite being available in sufficient quantities, only a small portion of the available CSPO has actually been bought [19%].” This fact balances the apparent goodwill of top world food producers. By 2015 the damages caused to the Rain Forest will be irreparable (if they aren’t already today) and the expression “sustainable palm oil” will be completely void of any sense.

So what’s the solution?

The boycott implied by the Greenpeace campaign may be part of the solution to urge the food industry to action the issue rapidly. You can easily do without a Kit Kat for one week or a lifetime but what about shampoo, soaps, cereals etc. So practically what can we do to reduce our consumption of palm oil? The solutions are quite the same as per any responsible consumption approach:

* Read the label: so you know what’s inside!

* Choose as far as possible, local and unprocessed food

* Be an informed consumer: consult website and blogs to find lists of palm oil free products.

Palm oil free products (the listed products are not all available in the UK)

To learn more about the environmental cost of palm oil plantations in South East Asia you can watch BBC’s documentary “Dying for a biscuit” here.

*WWF is member of the RSPO

Posted by Caroline Martinot

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