“The typical image used to represent the process of global warming is a power station, belching out black smoke. But an equally valid image would be an oil palm sitting serenely under a tropical sky. Rainforests are being cleared across south-east Asia, West Africa and South America to make way for palm oil plantations, which produce the world’s cheapest vegetable oil. Yet deforestation is one of the greatest drivers of climate change. The destruction of the planet’s rainforests is responsible for 20 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, as hardwood trees that have locked up carbon for decades are felled and burned. Tropical deforestation might feel like something that is remote from our daily lives in Britain. But the reality is that the consumer choices millions of us make every day are contributing to the destruction of these forests. Half of all packaged food products sold by our supermarkets are made with tropical palm oil.”
Palm oil is used in chocolate, biscuits, soap, shampoo and dozens of other products as well as being used as a bio-fuel. The massive increase in the number and size of plantations, particularly in South East Asia, has destroyed thousands and thousands of acres of rain forets and has led to massive deforestation and the destruction of precious habitats – most notably driving many orang utans into homlessness and death. But the cultivation of palm oil does not need to involve such rampant destruction. If planted on marginal land, its environmental impact can be minimal. Many Western companies signed up three years ago to a commitment to use Asian palm oil from sustainable plantations, rather than the variety produced by rainforest clearance. But as the Independent reveals, a survey from the WWF shows that their record in following through on these commitments has been miserable.
The WWF reports that most British manufacturers and retailers have done little to limit the environmental damage from palm oil and says that only Sainsburys, Marks & Spencer and a handful of other companies such as Cadburys have made substantial progress in sourcing sustainable palm oil. Others such as Aldi, Boots, Waitrose, Warburtons, Lidl, Birds Eye and Morrisns are at the bottom of the WWF’s league of shame and the WWF disclosed that 40 of the 59 firms surveyed in Europe had not brought any sustainable palm loil (certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – RSPO). Even the Co-op is in the bottom half of the WWF’s league table. It is clearly time for caring consumers to take action and make it clear to food manufacturers and retailers that the threat of environmental disaster that hangs over us comes in many shapes and few loom larger than the shape of the oil palm – and that the market needs to be transformed to rely on sustainable palm oil alone.