Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Look Out! Its Palm Oil...

Last week I had the most incredible breakfast meeting. It wasn’t with a CEO, or a celebrity, but rather I had breakfast with an endangered species!
That’s right; I shared my toast with one of the great apes, specifically a family of Orang-utans.
I was able to enjoy this experience at the famed program ‘Breakfast with the Orang-utans’ at Singapore Zoo. Most were unfortunately rescued as pets from people’s homes but this meant they were very used to humans. One young male even touched me lightly on the shoulder. I felt so honoured to be in such close proximity so such a beautiful, intelligent yet highly endanger creature.
I did have to wondered if my children would ever have the chance to meet an Orang-utan...
Orang-utans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and are the only members of the great ape family that reside in Asia.  They share 97% of their DNA with humans and have the intelligence of a three year old child! Looking into their eyes was truly like looking into the eyes of a fellow human being. They seemed to have certain wisdom about them.
Well after my wonderful breakfast I was horrified to find a KFC restaurant located just outside the zoo gates. How could this zoo that promotes Orang-utan conservation be so hypocritical as to have a KFC within its property?
You see, as mentioned Orang-utans are an endangered species with an estimated 60,000 left in the wild (WWF,2010).
According to WWF;
            Habitat destruction and fragmentation is by far the greatest threat to this species. This problem is caused by commercial logging, and forest clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture.
And to my knowledge, KFC was one of the biggest consumers of this product called palm oil. However, in doing research for this blog I discovered that due to consumer action, they have stopped using palm oil to produce their food- so I take back all of my bad thoughts about Singapore zoo being hypocritical!!!
However, in saying that, palm oil, the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia, and the number one threat to the existence of Orang-utan’s, is found in over 50% of all packed food on our shelves! If your shopping list includes packaged products like bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips, sandwich spreads, ice cream, shower cream and shampoo, then it’s likely you are buying palm oil (WWF, 2010).

Palm oil production is not only responsible for threatening the existence of Orang-utans, it is also responsible for threatening the environment in other ways and violating human rights;
                ‘If cultivated in an unsustainable way palm oil can have negative impacts on people and the environment. These include indiscriminate forest clearing, habitat loss of threatened and endangered species, poor air quality from burning forests and peatlands, and disregard for the rights and interests of local communities. A report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges that palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Of even more concern is the fact that demand for palm oil is predicted to increase, and most of the remaining suitable areas for plantations are forest.’ WWF
So, if palm oil is present in 50% of the products on our shelves, what can we do. Something that I have been doing week by week as I do my grocery shopping is quite simple- read the ingredients on the packet. You should probably be doing this anyway for health reasons. If palm oil that is not certified from a sustainable source is listed, simply do not buy the product and look for an alternative on the selves. If you feel so inclined write to the company that you chose not to buy from and inform them of your decision. This is the only way companies will change their ways- consumer demand!
What is palm oil? (2010).World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 February 2011 from http://wwf.org.au/ourwork/land/land-clearing-and-palm-oil/?gclid=CPWTpPL4iacCFU80pAodCnGyeQ


  1. Thanks for posting this article, however most companies that list Palm oil on their list of ingredients do not list if the palm oil is from a sustainable source and it very well may be. Any ideas?

  2. Hi,
    Good question- thanks for your comment.From my perspective companies should be indicating if it is from a sustainable source and I believe that if it were, they would promote this fact.If they are not indicating as such, this raises red flags for me. I would write to these companies and encourage them to promote their use of certified sustainable palm oil, if infact they are using it, as this is a selling point for their product and would be of benefit to them in terms of marketing and sales.