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Orang-Utans Future In Our Hands.

February 5, 2009

Following on from my earlier blog post I wanted to expand upon the Palm oil issue and share some more links. The issue of deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo is dear to my heart – I spent a summer working in the Tanjung Puting National Park, partly with the Orang-Utans babies at one of the rehabilitation centres and partly working to build a research base in the peat bogs. The experience was amazing for a 20 year old who was out for adventure. Now, 13 years on I look back at the constant stream of logging boats, the vast swathes of bare brown earth where rainforest should have been and the desperate plight of the “Men of the Forest” and feel a terrible sadness.

The fact that the lungs of the world are being destroyed for any reason is appalling and deserves our attention  but again I would urge the passionate consumer to use their intelligence and rationality to get to grips with this complex situation before jumping on the latest band wagon / hate campaign.

Palm oil has been used in food and personal care products for many years. In the more recent future palm oil has also been used as a feedstock for biofuels.  The demand for “healthy” fats, biofuel and consumer products have seen demand for this “natural” product rocket.  This “biofuel” and “healthy food fat” demand has been bolstered by the EU and USA while the development and growing wealth of China and India also play a part. Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa are, for the most part “Supplying” the “demand”, our demand.

Biofuels once seen as our fuel crisis savior are now being seen as the elephant in the room. A case of premature enthusiasm maybe (with massive global consequences). However, as with all things scientific when presented with a problem, the solution is (potentially) in the lab…. Biofuels from agricultural waste, more efficient fuels and other renewable options are waiting in the wings.

Palm oil for food – this is an issue as the world population grows it has to be fed. At what cost is an issue for governments the world over. Not everyone is taking their Palm oil in the form of a burger and thick shake!

Palm oil in cosmetics – Another issue close to my heart. I notice that the Body Shop has announced that they will be sourcing their Palm oil from Sustainable sources in the near future. This is a step in the right direction and one that other large users are taking. At present the vast majority of palm oil is handled through trade desks (mainly in Singapore). Untangling this web enough to be sure of the oils origins will take massive co-operation and work. Palm oil is a key ingredient of many of our essential and some non essential personal care products so it is hard to see how it could easily be replaced (any replacement oil would also have to be grown somewhere!) so maybe at the consumer end the supply / demand equation comes back into play.

So what to do?

The Big Picture.

Countries have laws to protect forests, national parks and sanctuaries. The Laws need to be enforced.

Corporate have Social and Environmental policies and standards. Working towards truly sustainable supply chains is key to creating the demand for change.

Consumers have the power to vote with their cash. Do so wisely.

Value the Earth rather than the dollars you can squeeze out of it.

Some links that I found interesting:

BBC news item on the current state of the Indonesian Rain Forest.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7084306.stm

Environmental Science Site.

http://news.mongabay.com/2006/0425-oil_palm.html

Information about Global Palm Oil Production.

http://www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/highlights/2007/12/Indonesia_palmoil/

Organic Consumers Association.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/Politics/palmoil100305.cfm

PS: Orang-utans do use soap!  This one came down to watch us bathe and wash our clothes. She then took off with our soap and washed her baby with it.

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