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Monday, February 22, 2010

Saving the Orangutan

Interesting programme on the BBC 1 tonight about how the challenge of saving the Orangutan is trickling down to our weekly shop.

Products such as biscuits, margarines, breads, crisps and even bars of soap contain palm oil, which is the cheapest source of vegetable oil available, and one that seldom on the label of most products.

Palm oil is grown on Borneo on land that was once rainforest and the natural home of the Orang.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the population has declined by 50% in recent decades and the Indonesian government admits that 50,000 orangutans have died as a result of de-forestation.

The Panorama programme looks at clear-cutting in Indonesian Borneo and has found that the thirst for land on which to plant palm plantations is encroaching on areas that the Indonesian government has deemed to be off-limits.

According to Greenpeace the draining of ancient peat lands to make way for palm oil has lead to massive amounts of trapped methane and carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only America and China.

The Panaorama team used GPS to pinpoint exact locations where the Duta Palma Group is logging on both high conservation lands and deep peat lands - both are illegal.

The Palm Oil industry is Indonesia 3rd largest exporter and only 3% of the world's palm oil is certified sustainable, meaning it comes from plantations that pass an environmental and social impact test.

Current labelling legislation allows manufacturers to list Palm Oil as vegetable oil.
Unilever and Proctor and Gamble, say their recipes can change and the amounts and types of oils they use can vary from week to week, making more detailed labels unworkable. However Sainsbury's has taken the decision to single out palm oil on the ingredients lists of their own-brand products, and to state directly that it is from a sustainable source.

Unilever recently terminated a large contract with a supplier called Sinar Mas, because of reports it was destroying high conservation value forests.

I think this is one for us consumers to work on. We have to tell our supermarkets how much we value the wildlife of our planet and that it is imperative that they put pressure on their suppliers to ensure the highest welfare standards.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

I watched this programme and was appalled by the devastation caused in the interests of commercialism!

Interestingly in Marks & Spencer today I saw large posters declaring (in particular in reference to their biscuits) that they did not use palm oil. Let's hope many more follow their example.