Wednesday, August 26th 2009
People power has forced Cadbury to take palm oil out of its chocolate - but campaigners say that's just a start. Environment reporter Eloise Gibson gets some advice from Auckland Zoo.
Zookeepers have taken to trawling the aisles of supermarkets, writing down ingredients in a bid to save the animals they look after. Auckland Zoo staff believe that, without intervention, creatures such as the Sumatran tiger will be gone in the wild within 12 years.
Their "orang-utan-friendly shopping list" is to help save the rainforest where tigers, orang-utans and small-clawed otters like those found at the zoo live.
After a customer outcry caused Cadbury to pull palm oil from its products this week, they hope public pressure will trim it from breakfast cereals, baby wipes, pet food, biscuits and other supermarket staples.
Figures from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) say palm oil is used in about one in 10 supermarket products - and may be being eyed up for biofuel. Peter Fraser, the zoo's conservation officer, said about four in 10 of the most popular supermarket brands contained palm oil.
Zookeepers have been visiting supermarkets after work with a clipboard, painstakingly recording ingredients for a "palm oil free" list. New products are added each week and there is a list of other names for palm oil to help shoppers. Mr Fraser said it was often listed as "vegetable oil" or a numbered additive such as "emulsifier 422", making it hard to see on ingredients labels. Palm oil has rocketed in popularity recently as a cheaper alternative to other vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are also being used more as they are healthier than some other fats.
Most palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is often grown on newly cleared land. Mr Fraser said there was already-cleared land available, but palm oil companies cleared rainforest because they could make extra profit from selling the wood. He said that just 1.5 per cent of global production was certified as sustainable, and even that was not yet independently certified.At least one major company owned a plantation certified as sustainable, while another it owned was clearing rainforest, he said.
Globally, palm oil is being considered as a new source of biofuel, although the UNEP says the deforestation it causes results in a carbon footprint higher than fossil fuels. The UNEP says it threatens part of one of the world's biggest carbon sinks - the tropical trees that together absorb nearly a fifth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels.
A Green Party bill passed into law this year means biofuel from palm oil grown from newly deforested land can not be sold in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, zoo staff stopped drinking Milo after learning it contained palm oil and are working to make the zoo cafe palm-oil free. The animals no longer eat palm kernels, although flamingo feed is proving difficult to replace: "There are just not that many flamingo feeds on the market," Mr Fraser said with a laugh. He said the list was not about making people feel guilty. "I want people to have this information and then they can decide if having these animals is important."
PALM OIL: HOW TO AVOID IT.
What products can contain palm oil?
Biscuits, crackers, shampoo, skin care products, pet food, chocolate, potato chips, spread, sauces, muesli bars, hot drinks, baby products and other supermarket items.
What is it often called on content labels?
* Cetyl Palmitate and Octyl Palmitate
* Elaeis Guineensis
* Hexadecylic or Palmitic Acid
* Hydrated Palm Glycerides
* Palm Oil Kernel
Where can I find palm-oil free products?
Auckland zookeepers are developing an "orang-utan-friendly shopping list". If you visit their web site, you should find this there.
FARMERS RAMPING UP PALM KERNEL IMPORTS
As zoo keepers work to cut palm oil from family shopping lists, farmers are importing its byproduct at a rate of more than a million tonnes a year.
Federated Farmers spokesman John Hartnell said palm kernel was coming into the country in large quantities as supplementary feed for cattle.
Despite environmental concerns about the clearing of rainforests, Mr Hartnell said the cheap price of palm kernel meant imports were "all go" at the moment. The environmental question did arise for farmers but"at the end of the day farmers need feed." "It's priced as attractive," he said.
Palm kernels are a less-than-ideal cattle feed. Mr Hartnell said they lacked protein and there were biosecurity concerns after some shipments were found to be contaminated with maize seed and insects. Federated Farmers was working to educate farmers about the biosecurity risks, but many farmers were getting a lot of their information from palm kernel suppliers, he said. Federated Farmers and MAF Biosecurity had been working together to address the risk of unwanted insects and seeds arriving, Mr Hartnell said.
Last year, Federated Farmers grains and seeds chairman Andrew Gillanders said palm kernel coming into the country for stock feed should be stopped because it was "created from the destruction of tropical rainforests".
Statistics New Zealand figures show most imports came from Malaysia or Papua New Guinea.
Copied in full from NZ Herald, Saturday 22ng of August 2009.
By Eloise Gibson Environmental Reporter.
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