Joanna Lumley: We need clear labels to stop the damage

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The Independent Online

Millions of acres of rainforest are being lost to palm oil. Ten per cent of everything we buy has palm oil; as a consumer I didn't know it was in shampoo and toothpaste.

Indigenous people have been crushed out of existence almost already, and the great orangutan is just being being eliminated in large numbers.

Palm oil turns forests into a white desert. Nothing grows underneath the oil palm and no birds or animals live in the plantations. It's time the Government acted. We have to be able to put signs on things we buy showing what damage has been done in our names. And because palm oil will grow on poor soil, it doesn't need prime rainforest.

For the programme, I visited Birute Galdikas, one of three women - with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall - entrusted by Richard Leaky to save the great apes. Birute has lived for 34 years in the jungle and she practically speaks orangutan. She runs a sanctuary and she has been overloaded by the side-effects of the destruction of the rainforest for palm oil, logging and gold mining.

Most of the orangutans come in as babies, some of which she has hand-reared. The babies never leave their mothers in the first year. So Birute knew all these creatures and they treated her as a senior orangutan.

Orangutans are not aggressive - there has never been an incidence of an orangutan killing a man. And they're solitary. The males spend about 98 per cent of their time alone. One of them took me by the hand and - like a very strong child - led me to the jungle. I held several babies and helped one of them climb a tree.

Their eyes, their hands and their expressions are so similar to humans.

I would like our Government to show some teeth, perhaps start a European Union campaign.

I think we should put legislation in place to stop companies buying products which have been linked with rainforest destruction and human rights abuses and the extinction of one of the world's great species.

Write to your MP: say how concerned you are by the destruction of the rainforest and that you want an emblem on your food to show that it does not have anything to do with the death of the forests and the extinction of the orangutan.