Government 'greatly concerned' by palm oil production

A A A

The Government has joined calls for Britain’s best-selling household groceries to use sustainable palm oil.



The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the Government was “greatly concerned” by the impact of palm oil production in South-east Asia, where it causes extensive deforestation and threatens the survival of the orangutan and other rare animals.

Producers chop down forests in Sumatra and Borneo to plant high-yielding oil palms whose oil is poured into food, soaps and skin creams.

As the Independent disclosed earlier this month palm oil is in, or suspected to be in, 43 of the UK’s 100 best-selling grocery brands, including Cadbury Dairy Milk, Mr Kipling cakes and Dove soap.

It is often labelled as “vegetable fat” or “vegetable oil,” making it difficult for the public to exercise choice.

In his first intervention in the palm oil debate, Mr Benn told the Independent: “The UK Government is greatly concerned by the potential environmental impacts of unrestrained palm oil production, regardless of end use, and I want to see sustainability standards adopted to help halt damaging practices.”

The Cabinet minister added: “I am pleased that some UK businesses have already made commitments to using only sustainably-sourced palm oil and would strongly encourage others to do the same.”

His comments were welcomed by the World Wildlife Fund and will intensify pressure on food and household products firms to change their buying policies.

Last week WWF announced it would start scoring companies on whether they were matching their public commitments on sustainability with purchases of certified sustainable palm oil.

Almost four per cent of global palm oil production has been certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (Rspo) on the grounds that they have not been sited on recent rainforest land, limit pesticide use and treat workers well.

However since the first Rspo-certified supplies arrived in Europe in November, businesses have bought only 1 per cent of the amount available, 15,000 out of the 1.3m tonnes available. Unilever, which set up the Rspo with WWF in 2002, and Sainsbury’s are two companies which have bought the oil, which is about 15 per cent more expensive than normal supplies.

“This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of sustainability efforts and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of Southeast Asia as well as other forests where oil palm is set to expand, such as the Amazon,” saidDavid McLaughlin, WWF vice president of agriculture.

Ginny Ng, WWF’s senior program officer for Borneo and Sumatra, urged companies to act quickly. She warned: “The tropical forests of Borneo and Sumatra are being cleared at such a rapid pace that the carbon emissions from this deforestation are greater than the industrial emissions of some developed countries.

“The orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos on these islands don’t stand a chance of survival if their forests aren’t protected. Creating a demand for sustainably grown palm oil is essential to their survival.”

WWF urged companies to make public commitments that they would use 100 per cent Rspo-certified palm oil by 2015.

Although most companies say they want to move to source palm oil sustainably, only a few have named a date when they will switch to an Rspo-only supply. Premier Foods says it will do so by 2011, United Biscuits by 2012, Sainsbury’s by 2014, and Unilever, Northern Foods, Kraft and

Tesco all say they will do so by 2015.

Companies that have not set a date include Kellogg’s, Cadbury, Heinz, Mars, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Morrisons, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, and Waitrose.

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents food manufacturers, said its members were fully aware of the need for palm oil to be from more sustainable sources and its “leading members” were actively participating in the Rspo.

“We hope other companies will follow this lead,” the FDF told the Independent.

“FDF fully supports the aims and the multi-stakeholder approach of the RSPO to bring more sustainable palm oil to the market. But the UK is only a small player in the complex global market for palm oil, importing approximately 1 per cent of the world’s annual crop”.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea