Do your bit
I was watching a documentary the other day on Indonesia’s palm oil boom. The horrifying bit was hearing how thousands of orangutans are burned to death or baby orangutans orphaned as companies clear natural forests and the orangutan habitats to make way for massive palm oil plantations. Sumatran and Borneo orangutans aren’t the only animals threatened by the encroaching plantations: the habitats of Sumatran tigers, the Sumatran Rhinoceros and the Asian elephant are also threatened.
We are advised to avoid trans-fatty acids found in partially hydrogenated oil and present in many common snack foods. The industrial alternative for partially hydrogenated oil is palm oil. It is the cheapest source of vegetable oil available. But whilst consuming palm oil may be healthier for humans, it’s deadly for orangutans. So the weekly shopping that you and I do is directly responsible for the survival of this endangered species. We are simply counting down to the extinction of this beautiful animal. Experts believe that among the 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80% are in Indonesia and within 20 years, these lovable, red-haired apes will be no more.
There are a number of companies and wealthy families responsible for this environmental horror – an example being the large palm oil company Astra Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of Jakarta-based Astra International, which is itself part of Jardine Matheson, a 177- year old group still controlled by a Scottish family, the Keswicks, descendants of the original founders.
But today’s post is not about pointing the finger of blame. The greed of the palm oil companies cannot be stopped. What can be stopped is the purchasing habits of you and me. So today, I am bringing you a guide on how to spot products that contain palm oil. There is no mandatory labelling of palm oil on food and cosmetic products, so it’s very likely that we are unwittingly contributing to the orangutans’ suffering.
The first thing to be aware of is that palm oil is often broadly referred to as vegetable oil. Only three vegetable oils must be labelled in food products in Australia and New Zealand – peanut, sesame and soy bean oil – and this is to alert people who may suffer allergic reactions to these oils. All other vegetable oils can be labelled as vegetable oil. But once you know this, if you then look at the saturated fat amounts, you start to get clues. You may see palm kernel, palm or coconut oil listed. If the saturated fat content is around 50%, most likely the vegetable oil will in fact be palm oil.
Palm oil is present in around 40% of products and is also labelled as any of the following:
- sodium lauryl sulphate
- sodium dodecyl sulphate
- hydrated palm glycerides
- palm oil kernel
- cocoa butter equivalent (CBE)
- cocoa butter substitute (CBS)
- palm olein
- palm stearine
- hexadecylic or palmitic acid
If you use margarine, most likely the margarine is derived from palm oil. See if the emulsifier, E471, is listed because this is derived from palm oil. Likely suspects are also: Emulsifiers 422, 430-36, 470-8, 481-483, 493-5.
In cosmetics, soaps and detergents, palm oil is often labelled as:
- elais guineensis
- lyceryl stearate
- stearic acid
- sodium lauryl sulphate
- sodium laureth sulphate
- cetyl alcohol
Here are some links I’ve found very useful for identifying products that are palm oil free:
- Borneo Orangutan Survival Guide to palm oil free foods (very extensive list). Includes names of manufacturers who are acting responsibly and confirming that their products are palm oil free. The list also includes shampoos, soaps and beauty products.
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Candy guide– particularly good for my American readers as it lists US-specific products.
- Auckland Zoo Palm oil free shopping list – includes baby products, baking supplies, bread products, breakfast cereals, cat and dog foods, cleaning products, confectionery, snack foods, toiletries.
- Buy stuff from Lush Cosmetics – they have announced they will no longer use palm oil and have produced Greenwash, its first palm oil-free soap. Lush is using a mixture of coconut, rapeseed and sunflower oils to replace palm oil in other soaps. The Body Shop was also the first cosmetics company to convert to using sustainable palm oil from a plantation in Colombia.
- List of palm oil free products on Facebook
- Join the Facebook Help Save Orangutans group
This should get you going. If you learn about any more palm oil free products or manufacturers, leave a comment. If we refuse to buy products that contain palm oil ingredients, then we can hit the manufacturers where it hurts: profits. And we can maybe save from the brink of extinction the beautiful orangutans.