Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Of Oils and Orangutans

Little Bro's had his first visit to Melbourne Zoo last week, and I would say on balance he enjoyed it. "On balance" meaning that we got off to a bad start, when the first animal we saw was a gorilla up close-and-personal (no chance of a photo!). Admittedly it was through glass, but Little Bro was still wise enough to know that responsible mothers shouldn't be leaving their offspring within picking distance of a Lowland Gorilla, and vocalised this opinion!

He did chirp up once I took him to the less threatening "ish,ish" carp enclosure (supposedly there is a hippo in there; I don't think I've ever seen it) and by the time we got to the monkey walk he was in his element. We'd bought Friends of the Zoo Membership ($100 for a year of unlimited visits) so I didn't bother being too ambitious, so after the monkeys we just "did" the tigers (which roared), the elephants (including Baby Mali in the distance), the orang utans, the giraffes and the meerkats, and that was well and truly enough for this visit.

The Zoo is running the Don't Palm Us Off Campaign which ultimately aims to use consumer power to reduce the demand for palm oil, much of which is being produced in plantations that are replacing Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests (so reducing orangutan habitat). The campaign is to demand that palm oil is specifically labelled in food ingredients lists, so that consumers can actively avoid it if they choose.

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in a huge range of processed food as well as soaps and cosmetics. The problem is that in Australia it can be listed under the generic "vegetable oil" label, or as a number of products such as cocoa butter substitute, emulsifier E471 and sodium lauryl sulfate so it's not that easy to identify. As this table shows, without this labelling requirement it's really hard for consumers to know what they¹re buying- even when companies provide information about which products are palm oil-free, there are heaps of intricacies to maneuver through: Sultana Bran is ok but Sultana Bran Crunch isn't, Haigh's and Lindt chocolate is ok unless it is filled. And buying soap without palm oil is a real challenge- it seems that most of the options are from online boutique companies.

The campaign is already having an effect: following public pressure a number of manufacturers- including Cadbury's and Nestle- are phasing out palm oil or switching to sustainable sources. But without the labelling change consumers have to take the incentive and time to research palm oil-free options for their shopping lists if they choose that this is a battle they care about.

We can only hope that this action is happening soon enough: some estimates are without action now, orangutans will be extinct in the wild in the next 10-30 years. It has been a dream of mine to one day take the boys to Borneo to see the orangutans in the wild, so switching my purchasing to palm oil-free products will be a small part towards getting there.

1 comment:

Maxabella said...

Wow, I always thought the Palm Oil thing was a health issue, but I see that environmentally things are much, much worse. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

I'm shocked that the Orangutans may be exinct within my lifetime. We've been discussing 'rangas' a lot lately (the redhead human kind, not the real ones). Too sad.

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