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12 May 2010

Palm oil labelling Bill needs your support

So far removed and yet so connected.  There may be some encouraging news for the orangutans and endangered species of SE Asia's rainforests if the machinery of our Government continues to grind in the right direction.

In November 2009, Senators Xenophon, Bob Brown and Joyce introduced to the Sentate, the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling – Palm Oil) Bill 2009. The Bill is under Inquiry and submissions closed recently (read the submissions).

It's not too late to have your say. Right now, you can sign a petition to support the Bill via the Zoos Victoria Don't Palm us off campaign.  80,000 other people already have!

The proposed Bill will require the accurate labelling of palm oil in food. The principal issues being considered are:
  1. The rights of consumers to be provided with accurate and truthful information to enable them to make an informed choice;
  2. That allowing palm oil to be listed as "vegetable oil" on food packaging is misleading;
  3. That palm oil is high in saturated fats and consumers should be made aware for health reasons;
  4. That the impact of palm oil production on wildlife, specifically Orangutan's in South East Asia is significant unless it is done sustainably;
  5. That sustainable palm oil can be produced with low impact on the environment and with better labour laws on plantations; and
  6. That manufacturers should be encouraged to use sustainable palm oil in their production process and can subsequently use the status of "Certified Sustainable Palm Oil" as a business benefit.
Complex dilemna

Palm oil is a complex issue for consumers and business and one that Biome is passionate about.  Following is our latest assessment of the issue and in particular, "sustainable palm oil".  It appears that while highly unlikely that certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is being used by all that claim to be, the WWF recommends that manufacturers and consumers support CSPO.

If you are not aware of the environmental threats due to palm oil, please see our Facts section below.  Biome has a commitment to not stock any products containing palm oil or its derivatives.  We do still offer some products with palm oil but we are working to remove these or to get our suppliers to substitute.  We clearly label the products where we have found palm oil

We are often told by suppliers that they use "sustainable palm oil".  However, we know that this would be unlikely and it is very difficult to be certain.   There is also the complex issue of whether palm oil is a better choice than a petrochemical oil... Realistically, the key problem is the major food producers and fast food chains - not a home-based soap maker making a natural plant oil alternative to petrochemical soap.

I was thrilled to discover this report today on the Don't Palm us off website, which covers brilliantly sustainable palm oil certification WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard Australia.

This report explains WWF's work with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and their certification program.  There is no hope for the orangutans without a credible organisation like the WWF working with the industry to solve the problem.   The question is, do you refuse all palm oil or support RSPO certified producers?  The WWF says:

"By supporting the RSPO and using only CSPO, companies can help slow down deforestation and the disappearance of some of Earth’s most amazing and threatened wildlife, including tigers, elephants and orang-utans. Choosing sustainable palm oil also helps companies to reduce climate change impacts, since slashing forests for oil palms can contribute to the release of greenhouse gas emissions."

According to the report, there is in fact enough CSPO to meet Australian demand, but it is not being purchased by manufacturers.  By January 2010, RSPO certified plantations were able to supply 1.76 million tonnes of sustainable palm oil per year—more than 13 times the amount imported into Australia each year.

Despite being available in sufficient quantities, only a small portion of the available CSPO has actually been bought. In the 12 months leading up to January 2010 only 40% of the CSPO available was purchased.  Apparently this is because of the premium price for the certified oil.

How do you know if the palm oil is CSPO?

As the WWF explains, at the moment you can not know.  Manufacturers that use palm oil need only list ‘vegetable oil’ in the ingredient list.   To find out whether a product contains palm oil consumers would need to contact the company who made the product and ask them whether they are using palm oil and if so, is it CSPO?   You should then ask for a copy of the certification.  If the palm oil is from a a bulk product, there is no chain of custody to prove its origins.

The hopes are for mandatory palm oil labelling to become a reality in Australia should the proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Palm Oil) Bill 2009 be passed. A provision within the bill mandates that retailers and manufacturers label their product as containing ‘CS Palm Oil’ in the ingredient list if the product contains sustainable palm oil produced in accordance with the RSPO’s standards.

What can you do?
  • Sign the petition to support the Bill at Don't Palm us off.
  • Write to or call your local MP and tell them to support the Bill.
  • Avoid products that do not list full ingredients or list "vegetable oil". 
  • Avoid products from manufacturers and fast food outlets that use palm oil - see the WWF Scorecard report, thePalm Oil Action Group Australia website and BOS Australia.
  • If the product contains palm oil ask for proof that it is CPSO - or avoid the product as this is the only safe way of knowing. 
  • Join the Australian Orangutan Project, adopting an orangutan or buying their cute t-shirts.
    Palm Oil Free Products
    Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) has an excellent list of Palm Oil Free alternatives for food and body products. Some of the brands listed that are available at Biome:
    Clean Conscience - green cleaning
    Pure and Green - organic skin and hair care
    Beauty & the Bees - soap, beer shampoo bar, baby care
    Riddels Creek Toothpaste

    We welcome any other ideas on making an ethical choice about palm oil.

    Palm Oil Facts

    From the Don't Palm us Off website
    • Over 85% of the world's palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. 
    • The most common cause of deforestation and fragmentation in Indonesia is related to palm oil.
    • An estimated 40% of food on our supermarket shelves contains palm oil.  
    • In SE Asia alone, the equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour for palm oil production.
    • Palm oil typically costs the lives of up to 50 Orangutans each week.
    • Australians unknowingly consume on average 10 kilograms of palm oil each year because we do not currently have the ability to exercise consumer choice. 
    • Sustainable Palm Oil Plantations are a possibility however you need you to tell FSANZ you want palm oil labeling if they are to become a reality.
    • Once palm oil is labelled, consumers can actually drive a market for proper certified sustainable palm oil because they can demand it of manufacturers.
    From the BOS Australia website

    "The single greatest threat facing orangutans today is the rapidly expanding palm oil trade. Rainforests are being cleared at the rate of 300 football fields per hour to make way for oil palm plantations.
    While there are millions of hectares of degraded land that could be used for plantations, many oil palm companies choose to instead use rainforest land to gain additional profits by logging the timber first. Palm oil companies also frequently use uncontrolled burning to clear the land, resulting in thousands of orangutans being burned to death. Those that survive have nowhere to live and nothing left to eat."

    Author & Editor

    Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


    bon008 said...

    Also considering joining the Australian Orangutan Project, or adopting an orangutan.

    Or buy one of their cute shirts!

    Tracey said...

    Thank you for the great contribution. I have added the info and link int the list.

    Ken Bignall said...

    Brilliant, thanks for this. It's so important that organisations follow the RSPO criteria for sustainable palm oil production to stop the destruction of our rainforests.

    pollinate said...

    Thank you for making us aware of this. I have heard mention before but not fully understood. I've gone and signed petition and made link my facebook status (& I don't even use it that much) because I believe our ignorance of this matter is no excuse. Hopefully I've made someone else aware of the plight as well.

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