Palm oil. It has more than 200 other names, is found in half of all packaged supermarket items, is cheap and demand for it is decimating endangered animal populations in South East Asia, including the orangutan. Thanks to a free app, making a difference to palm oil consumption just got easier.
Unless a change is made in the rate of deforestation, The Orangutan Project estimate that extinction in the wild is likely in the next 10 years for Sumatran Orangutans and soon after for Bornean Orangutans. It’s a sobering thought. As consumers of palm oil, one significant way we can help change is in our consumer choices. However, with the plethora of names used for palm oil and without mandatory labelling laws, finding palm oil in ingredients in order to avoid it, is not only difficult, but downright confusing (not to mention the greenwashing on palm oil supply).
That’s where a free app by Palm Oil Investigations (POI) comes in. Developed by a group of dedicated volunteers, by scanning the barcode of a product, the app will tell consumers immediately whether the product contains palm oil and if so, if it’s been sourced ethically, that is whether it’s been grown on a managed and certified plantation and if it can be traced and tracked through its entire lifecycle.
Palm Oil comes from the oil palm tree which grows in the tropics. In our foods, it’s commonly referred to as vegetable oil and in non-food products there are more than 200 names for it. (Note: Palm sugar is not palm oil). Although the oil palm is originally from West Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia now account for approximately 90 per cent of world’s palm oil production. Unfortunately, many of these palm oil plantations are on peat soils, which until recently were covered by peat swamp forests. Draining these carbon-rich organic soils for plantations is causing massive greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to keep up with demand, many virgin rainforests continue to be destroyed in order to plant palm oil. Every hour in South East Asia more than 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed. And it’s been like that for years. In 2007, in Issue 7 of Adore Animals magazine, after visiting Borneo to see the orangutans, we reported that five football fields placed side by side were being destroyed every minute. Every minute. And it’s still happening nearly seven years later.
According to POI, more than 50 orangutans are killed every week due to deforestation – they have no homes, no food to eat and nowhere safe to stay. They have been run over by excavation equipment, doused in petrol and burnt alive, captured, tortured, beaten, shot with air guns or slaughtered. If a mother is found with a baby, the mother will be killed and the baby sold to the illegal wildlife trade.
It’s not just the orangutan under threat, more than 50 other species of animals are facing extinction due to deforestation including the Pygmy Elephant, Proboscis Monkey, Gibbon, Sun Bear, Clouded Leopard, Malayan Tapir, Sumatran Tiger and Asian Rhinoceros.
There’s no doubt the certification process has let down those in the industry (as well as consumers) wanting guaranteed sustainable palm oil. Therefore, we suggest if you want to make ethical and sustainable choices for palm oil consumption, download the free POI app (links are at the end of this article) and if you can, choose only the first two (POF and NDP) of the five scan result categories in the POI app as listed below.
• Palm Oil Free (POF)
• Active No Deforestation Policy (NDP) – this stringent policy goes above and beyond RSPO certification with full tracking and traceability on palm oil supply from plantation to mill to end user
• RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) – 95 to 100 per cent segregated or identity preserved RSPO supply chain
• RSPO Mass Balance – mixed RSPO certified
• FAIL – 94 per cent and under segregated or identity preserved RSPO supply chain. The company has also failed to supply official certification documentation and/or failed to provide requested information regarding source of specific ingredients.
For an RSPO Mass Balance or FAIL result, the app will automatically suggest an alternative product. The consumer can also send an automated email to the brand’s customer service department encouraging them to shift their product(s) into one of the three higher categories.
If the product you scanned is not on the database of more than 110,000 products listed, you can use your phone to take a photo of the barcode, the ingredients and the front of the packet and email them to POI. They’ll then follow up the product and get the information.
Features of the app include the option to share scan results to the POI Facebook page.
Brands that are truly supporting sustainable palm oil within a flawed system need to be rewarded with our support. So please, if you can, choose, POF and NDP, or at the very least CSPO. Thank you.
Photography & text: Lisa Louden