New labelling for palm oil

New labelling will give consumers more power to say no to the palm oil that fuels deforestation. The Government is putting EU rules into action in the UK to force food and drink manufacturers to declare if their products contain palm oil.

Food and Farming Minister David Heath said: “The Government is tightening up rules to make it easier for shoppers to make more informed decisions for themselves and their families at the tills. We fought long and hard in Europe for more honest labelling so that people can make up their own minds about what they eat.”

Ripping up the forests

Oil palm plantation in Cigudeg, Indonesia

Deforestation makes up one fifth of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, and the global lust for palm oil is helping to drive the destruction. An edible oil made from the fruits of the oil palm, Elaeis guineensis, it is used in confectionary, baked goods, cooking oil, margarine and many other foods. Its popularity, 25 per cent of global oil production is palm, comes from it being around a third cheaper than soya bean oil, with good taste and cooking properties. It is also used in the cosmetics industry.

The major problem is that palm oil producers are devastating pristine forest habitats -especially in Malaysia and Indonesia. They clear huge areas of biodiversity rich forest and replant with large monocultures of intensively farmed oil palm plants. But these plantations steal the homes and food sources of native wildlife, many of which are killed if they do not flee the destruction or if they try to eat the palm nuts. Currently only 14 per cent of the total global supply for palm oil is certified as sustainable. 

Losing wildlife

Wild orangutan in Kutai National Park, Borneo

If we allow this trend to continue the palm oil industry could cause the extinction of the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, Asian elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros. In Borneo, 80 per cent of wild cats face extinction, driven primarily by loss of habitat.

Gentle forest dwelling orangutans are highly endangered, but they are mercilessly slaughtered and sometimes abused in the name of palm oil. Reports suggest orangutans could become extinct in as little as 12 years. A photograph was once published of an orangutan in a plantation that had been cruelly set on fire. In desperation it had crawled to a small puddle and died there – just to make cheap sweets and chocolate.

Human health

It is not only an environmental problem, it is a human health issue. Palm oil is extremely high in saturated (bad) fat, which makes up over 50 per cent of the substance, and low in polyunsaturated (good) fat. The Heart Foundation warns against consuming it as high levels of saturated fat can lead to coronary heart disease and death. While the World Health Organisation recommends reducing our intake of oils like palm oil.

A major problem for anyone wanting to avoid palm oil had been that it was often not labelled properly and was merely called ‘vegetable oil’. But food and drink manufacturers will now have to state the origin of oils on product labels. Unfortunately this will not happen overnight and will be in line with manufacturers planned re-labelling cycles, to keep costs to a minimum. But it is a step in the right direction. The Government’s next move should be to enforce labelling of palm oil in all non-food products too.

Our responsibility: we have to affect change through our pockets. If we choose not to spend money on palm oil we can help prevent this deforestation and the abuse/deaths of innocent wildlife. The choice is yours…

Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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17 Responses to New labelling for palm oil

  1. Pingback: Rare bat in small Sumatran rainforest | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Judy says:

    Yes!About time!Get a move on with it EU & UK.The forests are vanishing fast!

  3. saggaf says:

    In northern countries, people could be alarmed by the risk of consuming palm oil. But i’m not quite sure of stopping the deforestation, simply by banning vegetable oil, a.k,a palm oil. Palm oil is massive being produced to non food products, larger than food. Composites to produce electronics, automobile industries, styrofoams, lubricates, as well as green fuel.
    In southern countries, the quickest, the cheapest, the lowest, the tastiest are mostly palm oil based diet, which would be consumed in day to day basis. Death is the latest issue, but empty stomach must be fulfilled soon. Palm oil kernels [core] go to Northern countries, as the best quality of white pure product. Outer rinds go to Southern countries, as the lower quality of amber product, and this one could be processed through refinery for a golden yellow product. The cheapest goes to the poorest, sold in bulk in the market place.Every where you look, you found the same diet. as every where you look you see dull never ending palm groves.Deforestation would kill elephants and biodiversity. Palm Oil would kill humanity.
    Dear scientists around the globe, please find out the substitute of Palm Oil, just like great invention Finnish discover Palm Oil from Africa plant back in 1920’s and brought it to Sumatra.

  4. Jacqui says:

    I can’t believe how hard it is to get basic products in the U.S. that do not have palm oil derivatives. When I was reminded about hidden palm oil, I went back through my products and half of the have sodium lauryl sulfate! It’s heart-breaking. It’s in many beloved U.S. staples, and consumers don’t know. Almost all Halloween candy has it and many so-called organic cereals! The message is clearly not getting out to consumers! Even when I know to avoid it, some products have so many ingredients in small print that it’s really easy to miss.

    The thing that bothers me most is that very few reporters or articles have listed the products and companies that need to take responsibility. (They just direct you to a website, and most people will forget to go look it up). Maybe there are petitions to companies that I don’t know about, but at this rate, the U.S. government should step up and ban palm oil use from unsustainable sources.

  5. Pingback: New labelling for palm oil | The Glory of the Garden |

  6. Julie, I’m not sure I would rely on any claim that palm oil is sustainable…

    • Julie Taylor says:

      Yes Martin, that was what I meant by my final comment – “a thorny issue”. I have read stuff about the unreliable labelling procedure of the palm oil itself. I guess that is the real area that needs to be targeted. I wonder indeed is there even a realistic possibility of producing palm oil sustainably in the quantities in which we seem to be consuming it? Like that other kind of oil on which we are so dependent, we must find more sustainable alternatives.

      • Kay Haw says:

        Thanks for all your comments Julie. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil say only 14% of total global supply of palm oil is currently Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, and they hope to increase this to 50% by 2015. I think this is a mammoth task! I also agree with you that we need to reduce our demand and use of this unhealthy oil. Ultimately we need to reduce our consumption of all goods in the developed world.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Thanks for your comment Martin, this worries me too!

  7. Julie Taylor says:

    I am just thinking that while companies are producing new labelling in relation to palm oil, perhaps they could also state if their palm oil is produced sustainably.
    … though I believe that is a thorny issue in itself …

  8. Julie Taylor says:

    Good to hear this news. Along with continued education about environment destruction and health hazards caused by palm oil, I am sure this new labelling will help us to persuade people palm oil is another bad idea based on greed.

  9. Alex Jones says:

    All done to service the consumer of the first world nations.

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