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"Bad" Palm Oil Aware Campaign -
Help Save the Orangutan

ORIGINAL 2005 ARTICLE (with 2014 update edits and notes)


Young Orangutan.
Photo Copyright
Orangutan Foundation

Depending on what you buy during your grocery shop you could be unwittingly aiding the extinction of rain forest animals such as the much-loved Orangutan.
More than one in ten of supermarket and grocery store products contain palm oil; from foods such as bread, crisps cakes and chocolate to cosmetics and toiletries including soaps, skin creams, shampoos and toothpaste. Palm oil is also found in biofuels and if you are a meat eater the beef on your plate is likely to have been fed on "palm kernal cake" - a byproduct of the oil palm industry.
Most mass-produced palm oil comes from southeast Asian areas such as Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago, home to the Orangutan. Nearly all palm oil from these regions is responsible for the accelerated destruction of precious rain forests and peat lands rich in irreplaceable biodiversity.
Each year around 5,000 Orangutans are driven from their unique habitats in Borneo and Sumatra, as illegal loggers and "slash and burn" farmers make way for palm oil plantations.
As huge swaths of forest are cleared, Orangutans and other animals wander dazed and confused while plantation workers butcher the frightened apes with machetes or even burn and bury them alive. Hundreds of orphaned babies are also left alone to die or sold in the illegal pet trade.
In 2005, Friends of the Earth reported on the state of corruption and political greed existing in Borneo*. Researchers say that forest fires, deliberately set by palm oil companies since 1998, have now killed around one half (by 2014) of the orangutan population. Friends of the Earth also say that the Indonesian Government is planning to convert a significant area of Tanjung Puting National Park, the world's most famous protected area for orangutan, into an oil-palm plantation.

Palm oil is used in most savoury snack foods, breads, cakes, biscuits and chocolate, which should give you as a consumer some idea of how extremely serious this problem is. Billions of food products containing palm oil are eaten daily. If you are a meat eater even the dead animal on your plate is likely to have been fed "palm kernal cake" a cattle feed made from the kernal pulp of "bad" oil palms.
Think twice before buying any foods and even cosmetics and beauty products containing a palm oil. Has it been sourced from plantations created by destroying forests and wildlife?
In the end, it's you the consumer who carries the final responsibility - having the power to stop such atrocities by simply not buying what we call "bad palm oil" products. If you ignore an ethical issue as important as this, it means that unscrupulous plantation growers will continue to provide manufacturers with ingredients that destroy the world's last remaining ecosystems; vital to the biological stability of the entire planet.
So ask questions when you go shopping. When the ingredients on a product include vegetable oil, it often means it includes palm oil, so find out where that palm oil comes from. A shop assistant or even the manager will probably have no idea, but persist and make sure your question is logged. And if you don't get a satisfactory answer, don't buy the product.

The original version of this Looking-Glass good cause support article (above) was first published here in 2005, bringing together information and actions by animal and environmental organisations. Some of these organisations had for years been battling to protect South East Asian rain and swamp forests from destruction, but prior to this article their important work had been only scarcely searchable online. This page became widely read and discussed over the following months and national press and media began publishing their own reports as other palm oil web campaigns have since sprouted. The subject of, what we call "bad palm oil", was finally in the public eye and consumer awareness of this horror became mainstream. Our original article asked consumers to question the source of palm oil in products when shopping. The subsequent groundswell of interest in palm oil meant that eventually one or two food stores began to take notice. At the time of the original article our campaign stopped short of calling for an outright boycott of entire supermarket chains. We surmised that growing consumer and media pressure alone might more diplomatically coerce governments in "bad" palm oil growing regions to act by curbing indiscriminate clearing of the South East Asian rain and swamp forests. The first signs of such government environment ministry intervention appeared in 2014 when, for the first time, a palm oil company was fined 30 million US dollars for illegal clearing and burning of a forest in Sumatra.
On the consumer level, in 2012 the UK supermarket chain Waitrose committed to using only sustainable palm oil in their own-brand products. Other supermarket groups are slowly following, although at the time of this 2014 update Tesco, Wallmart and Morrisons were still shamefully lagging behind.
Since millions of products containing "bad palm oil" are still manufactured and sold worldwide we continue to advise all consumers to be "bad palm oil aware". Still ask questions to your local supermarket or shop manager .... Just because a supermarket chain have ensured that their own brands contain forest friendly (sustainable) palm oil doesn't change the fact that the hundreds of other brands they sell may contain "bad" palm oil.
Why are these supermarkets still selling any bad palm oil products at all?
At this point in our "Bad Palm Oil Aware" campaign it's now time to consider boycotting individual brand products which still contain "bad palm oil". If we stop buying bad palm oil products then the shops will obviously stop selling them. So if the offending brands have any sense they will quickly change the palm oil content in their products to be sourced sustainably.

As regards seeing a "Rain Forest Alliance" label on a product, don't be fooled.
(See why here)

When this article was first published in 2005 there were approximately 60,000 Orangutans left in the wilds of Borneo and Sumatra. In 2014, the Orangutan Copnservancy calculate that there are now only 40,000. At the rate of forest and habitat destruction in 2005 it was expected that Orangutans could be extinct by 2015. Figures tauted by some organisations can sometimes be off the mark for whatever reason and perhaps since this atrocity has now been more widley publicized, deforestation may have slowed just slighty. Therefore in 2014 the current extinction time frame for wild oranutangs quoted by "many experts" has shifted from 2015 to approx 2039. No extinction date is good news however, because as this horror continues - at any pace - this means the end of the forests and the beloved orangutang at some point in the next few years.
In Africa huge palm oil plantations are now scaring their way across the Congo Basin rainforest. Up to two thirds of the forest could be destroyed for palm oil in the coming years Chimpanzee, gorilla and forest elephant habitats are being destroyed.
To help stop the decimation of any tropical forest, stop buying any product containing "bad" palm oil right now.
To help you to choose products using sustainable palm oil look on the product for the RSPO label (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil).

Since this article was first published, footage of orangutans burning alive as forests are cleared have surfaced on the internet ... such as this (warning - distressing images)
In the meantime, these heartbreaking practices will continue as long as manufacturers and consumers create the demand for unethically sourced ingredients.

(The Looking-Glass project The NOVA Key ethical clarity labelling system conceived in 2000 includes a simple way to check if a product is rainforest, natural habitat and ecologically friendly - or not.)

To help and to act on this crisis please visit these action organisations (updated 2014):

Ape Alliance
Animal Welfare group, Ape Alliance, represent organisations such as the Borneo Survival Foundation
... has a petition to urge the Indonesian government save the remaining forests and peatlands.

Orangutan Foundation UK and USA

Orangutan Conservancy

Sumatran Orangutan Society

Rainforest Foundation (for information on new palm oil plantations in the Congo Basin, Africa)

* UK Friends of the Earth archive report from 2005 worth reading at...

NOTE 2014: The organisations (Safe Palm Oil) and originally listed in the 2005 article no longer exist.

DONATION NOTE: Most charities dealing with animal care and protection are basically funding organisations whose function is to support and allocate funds from public donations to the actual in-the-field projects and small animal rescue centres they have "partnered" with. Our long-term experience has shown that the practices of some large funding charities to be highly questionable regarding funding and support to their in-the-field "partners". Therefore, Looking-Glass always advises that you check an organisation's direct physical involvement in the projects they are representing. If you are in doubt as to how much of your donation will reach the stated cause via a funding organisation we advise you to instead donate directly to the actual "in the field" project organisation if possible and not through a representative funding organisation unless you are made fully aware of and are happy with the organisation's funding arrangement and its ongoing support for the in-the-field project.

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