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Nations Environment Program
Palms Ruining Forests
in three food products sold in Europe's supermarkets could be
contributing to the destruction of forests and wild life, says a report
released in London Monday by Friends of the Earth.
That is because these products contain palm oil, which finds its way
also into several food stuffs such as chocolate and margarine, but also
in other goods such as soap and detergents.
The report 'Greasy palms - palm oil, the environment and big business'
says that by some estimates one in ten supermarket products contain palm
oil, which accounts for more than a fifth of all edible oils used around
”Large scale palm oil plantations are replacing the forests in
Indonesia and Malaysia at an alarming rate, wiping out 80-100 percent of
wildlife in the area, forcing local communities from their land and
destroying their livelihoods,” says the report by Friends of the Earth
”In Indonesia, the forests are disappearing at a rate of more than two
million hectares a year - an area half the size of Belgium,” the
report says. ”Nearly a quarter of Indonesia's palm oil output goes to
the European Union.”
Friends of the Earth is calling on the companies involved in palm oil
production to take immediate steps to ensure they only use sustainably
produced palm oil.
But the call to companies will not be enough, says Robin Webster, main
author of the report. ”We need corporate accountability legislation to
tackle the problem,” she told IPS. ”We have often seen companies
make a lot of promises and make small changes. But that kind of thing
would not do in such a large sector.”
Friends of the Earth is campaigning for changes to be introduced in
Britain ”where we have our greatest influence,” Webster said. ”The
legislation must ensure that companies have a duty to the environment
and to social issues, it must ensure duty of care on the directors of
the companies that import such products.”
But Friends of the Earth plans also to take its campaign to the European
Parliament. ”They have an Integrated Product Policy with green
labelling schemes and other such moves, but voluntary schemes are not
getting us anywhere, they don't exert enough pressure,” she said.
The environment group will now look for more Europe-wide pressure on
Indonesia particularly, which is the source of about a quarter of the
palm oil products imported into the European Union (EU).
Europe also buys 87 percent of Indonesia's exports of palm kernel meal
used in animal feed, and 61 percent of Indonesia's exports of palm
kernel oil, used in cosmetics, the report says.
But there were some fears that the group's warning to consumers about
the impact of their purchases could damage the palm oil market, and its
producers. ”Any boycott of palm oil products would neither be possible
nor desirable,” Robert Barrington, director for social responsibility
with the asset management company ISIS told IPS.
ISIS found in a survey that 24 of 27 major commercial users of palm oil
feared their business could be at risk if they were held responsible for
”Many developing countries depend on sale of palm oil, and a threat to
the products would damage the economies of these countries,”
Barrington said. ”The only answer is to see that these countries
produce palm oil sustainably.”
It was not clear at this stage whether a move to more sustainable
production would raise prices and push palm oil out of the market, he
said. ”Sustainable production has to be carried out in a reasonable
way, but there is no shortcut, and this is not going to be an easy thing
Campaigning groups must also bear in mind that many alternatives to palm
oil are available, and manufacturers and imports could simply switch to
other oils, he said.
That is not likely because ”palm oil is incredibly cheap at the
moment, and the companies buying palm oil are making very large
profits,” Webster said. ”Palm oil will not be pushed out of the
market that easily.”
Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper agreed that ”it is all but
impossible to avoid buying palm oil”. But he said consumers would be
horrified to know that ”their weekly shop is destroying the
Tigers, orang-utans and countless other species are being driven to
extinction ”while governments stand idly by and allow companies to get
away with it,” Juniper said in a statement Monday.
”This problem will not be solved until there are clear rules to ensure
the products found in our shops are produced in a way that does not harm
communities and the environment.”
Juniper warned that ”the demand for profit from this rapidly expanding
trade is leading to human rights violations against indigenous
communities, who are losing their land and being forced to work on the
plantations, often for less than the minimum wage.”