# Tuesday, 02 March 2010

I watched the Panorama programme about the impact of the palm oil industry on the environment with interest. I have long been aware that unsustainable palm oil impacts hugely on the environment and particularly on the habitat of the orangutan population. What I was now, made aware of, however, was the number of products that might contain palm oil without my knowledge. I prefer to source most of cosmetics from Lush because most of their products do not contain palm oil but the Panorama documentary made me aware that many food products might contain palm oil disguised as vegetable oil.

The problem with palm oil is that it causes a massive amount of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. The impact forces not only the indigenous people from their homes but also the ever vulnerable and fast depleted orangutan population. What the documentary highlighted was that many areas that are protected forest are being illegally logged and turned over to palm oil production. It seems, that because the business is so lucrative, the respective local governments turn a blind eye to this breech of the law.

Figures show that the orangutan population has declined by 50% in the last decade and around 50,000 orangutans have died as a result of de-forestation. At this rate there seems little hope for the remaining population. Currently only 3% of the world’s palm oil is certified as sustainable meaning it comes from a plantation that passes an environmental impact test. Most of the big manufacturers who use palm oil also have no way of tracing where it comes from because it is mixed with other oil so they are unable to trace the origin.

Whilst this might be the case what in my mind is inexcusable is the mislabelling of products. Manufacturers are allowed to list palm oil simply as “vegetable oil” without stating the actual content. Although their excuse that recipes can change and the oil can very from week is certainly plausible, surely they can label a product as “may contain palm oil” in the same way they would with a product such as nuts. That way as a consumer I can make an informed judgement as to whether to buy the product or not. Surprisingly the only supermarket which states whether a product contains palm oil and whether it is from a sustainable source is Sainsbury’s. Based on this I think I will make a conscious choice to switch to their own brand products. I wonder whether any others will follow suit.

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