Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How vegetable oil is destroying the rainforest

We all know that rainforests are some of the most important habitats in the world for a huge range of plants and animals that often can't be found elsewhere. Around a quarter of the world's oxygen is converted from carbon dioxide by plants in rainforests. These places are integral to the culture of many indigenous people, and are home to hundreds of uncontactable tribes. As one of our most precious resources we should all be doing our best to protect these forests.

However the ever increasing use of palm oil in food, cosmetics and biodiesel is posing a real threat to tropical rainforests, in South East Asia particularly. Every day huge swathes of rainforest are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. On the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the only place in the world to find Orangutans in the wild, an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch is cut down every twenty seconds.

Demand for palm oil is increasing because it is cheap, and over 70% of it is used in the food we eat, in everything from chocolate to cream cheese. Environmentally minded consumers are already aware of the damaging effects of palm oil, but, at the moment, there is no way for them to tell which products use unsustainable palm oil. That is because manufacturers can simply label palm oil as 'vegetable oil'.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have been leading on new European legislation on food labelling for all Democratic Socialist MEPs. One of my big campaigns was to have all vegetable oils properly labelled, so consumers can see whether products contain palm oil or not. I was delighted that the European Parliament voted for my amendments, but I had a long hard battle with EU governments who argued the industry line that this labelling would be too difficult.

However this morning representatives of the 27 EU countries agreed to the compromise package including my amendments on vegetable oil. Once this legislation comes into force consumers will be able to put pressure on manufacturers using palm oil to get it from a sustainable source.  In the meantime consumers can choose products which already use certified sustainable palm oil.

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