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
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.
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.
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