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Time to boycott palm oil products?

June 23, 2009
Orangutan looking thoughtful

Orangutan looking thoughtful

Opinion seems divided on whether a palm oil boycott would do more harm than good. Friends of the Earth think a boycott would be impossible and irresponsible – harming commmunities who are already struggling to survive on less than a living wage. And, anyway, palm oil is often listed as vegetable oil on product labels.

Why the fuss? Palm oil is one of the world’s most lucrative commodities and on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra they are levelling forests to increase palm oil production. This is putting pressure on endangered species such as orangutans, tigers and elephants.

Palm oil is now the most popular vegetable oil in the world, and 85% of it comes from former orangutan habitat. 1 in 10 products in your supermarket contain palm oil in some form. Palm oil is in crackers, toothpaste, margarine, detergents and cosmetics.

Orangutans could be extinct within 15 years (if that seems like a long time, look back fifteen years and tell me the time in between hasn’t flown?).

So, while we don’t want to ruin the lives of Indonesian people, I do think we should shop with care. The World Wildlife Fund is planning a scorecard to show which companies use sustainable palm oil – but that’s about six months away. Until then, it wouldn’t do our health any harm to cut back on processed foods which use a lot of palm oil, and we’re always happy to send you to Lush for your cosmetics.

MI does try not to hector you, dear readers, and with no consensus on the subject at the moment, there will be no grand pronouncement here.
The thing is, I love orangutans and it grieves me that we’re doing them such harm. So, I will do my best to avoid palm oil, choose sustainable palm oil wherever possible and head off to the Orangutan Foundation to support their work. There is, of course, a petition to sign. Now, don’t be cynical (see the most recent post about Aung San Sui Kyi) – get over there and add your name.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2009 10:26 am

    Orangutan could be extinct within 15 years while Borneo island still have 55% remote forest that been strictly gazetted as national park? No way..

    • June 29, 2009 1:42 pm

      I’d love to know if you have a vested interest Mded – but I have to say the illegal loggers don’t seem to be playing by the rules vis a vis the National Parks. (http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2003/09/0930_030930_orangutanthreat.html)
      I hope those of us wanting to save the orangutans from extinction are wrong and that they outlive me, my daughter (and any grandchildren she might bear) in their natural environment. Will be happy to live with your smugness if that turns out to be the future.

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