A few months ago I wrote about the devastating impact the palm oil industry has on biodiversity in pristine equatorial rainforests, and it disproportionate contribution to climate change. I was inspired by Zoos Victoria’s “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign to persuade producers of goods containing palm oil to switch to Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, and started to think about how I might make a small but discernible difference to this unacceptable practice. The Kosher food industry tend to be fairly small players but so are their target market – the Kosher food consumers – and so it made sense to initiate a Jewish-led campaign to persuade these manufactures to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil rather than mainstream palm oil which is associated with deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change and indigenous rights abuses.
I began this endeavour by contacting some major Kosher food manufacturers whose products containing palm oil can easily be found on Australian supermarket shelves, and I asked the question, “I notice that many of your products contain palm oil. Are you a member of RSPO and do you use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil?“. This is what I have learnt so far:
- Osem. Palm oil is listed on the ingredients of very many Osem products to the extent that I was tempted to avoid Osem altogether as I believed they had complete disregard for the environmental consequences of their business practices. And this is where I learnt to never make assumptions before investigating properly. Osem explained they are a subsidiary of Nestle and adhere to their policy on such matters. Nestle is a signatory to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil and 100% of the Palm Oil they source is RSPO certified. They may not currently have the highest level of certification, but are part of the way there and are making continued positive steps in that direction. I applaud Nestle and Osem for what they have achieved.
- Rakusens. This UK-based company quickly pointed out to me they are signatories to the Rountable for Sustainable Palm Oil and that all the palm oil used in their crackers is Certified Sustainable and this information is readily available on their website, here: http://rakusens.co.uk/2015/12/15/rakusens-sustainable-palm-oil-policy/. However, the palm oil in their non-cracker products is not yet from certified sustainable sources although they claim to be working on this. This intrigued me as I had assumed it was only a small step from sourcing sustainable palm oil for one product to sourcing it for all. So far they have not explained why this is so and this is a question I need to pursue in order to understand the complex issues involved.
- Eskal. The Australian company responded “All of our supplier use palm oil from reputable manufactures all pursuing sustainable sources.” but did not respond to my follow-up queries attempting to establish what was meant by “pursuing” and “sustainable sources”.
- Tradition. This US company makes Ramen-style noodles containing palm oil. I haven’t received a response to my email queries after two attempts.
I plan to follow up with phonecalls where my questions have not been answered, but so far I have been very encouraged to discover there are major manufacturers doing the right thing, even though they do not print the RSPO logo on their products.
It has taken me a while to publish this blog but the nudge to do was a reminder email from Zoos Victoria about their push to legislate for transparent labelling. Currently it is permissible in Australia and New Zealand to label palm oil as ‘vegetable oil’ thus making it impossible for an average consumer to know which products are contributing to the deaths of 1000+ orang-utans a year, and hastening their extinction. On November 25, just ten days from now, Ministers will meet to discuss whether manufacturers will in future be required to label palm oil clearly. This is an extremely important step in the reformation of the palm oil industry. Please sign this petition before November 25th to tell ministers that you support compulsory palm oil labelling. Nestle reviewed many of its practices, including the switch to Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, following public outcry and lobbying campaigns. Citizen muscle is effective. Please use it.