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Won’t Someone Please Give Us The Choice? Or At Least A Straight Answer

As much as I would like to carry on the positive theme of the previous post, I have some rather troubling news.

You may have head last week that Cargill, a major palm oil company and supplier to many large food manufacturers, admitted to purchasing a shipment of palm oil from Indonesian company PT Best in 2011.

What’s that got to do with the price of margarine, I hear you ask? Well, not too much, but it does have a large impact on the palm oil status of all the companies they supply.

Let’s break it down; PT Best Agro International Group owns a large number of palm oil plantations throughout Indonesia, and as a result has been involved in illegally clearing thousands of hectares of orangutan habitat. They were investigated extensively by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which found them to be violating many of Indonesia’s laws, by clearing and developing a 23,000 hectare concession of rainforest into a palm oil plantation.
Last week, Cargill admitted to buying at least one shipment of Palm Oil from this very company last year, and this has stirred up further speculation that this is not the only time they have purchased from PT Best, and it is possible they still do to this day!
They’ve also been accused of having connections within their palm oil supply chain to the destruction of the Tripa rainforest! Talk about Emperor Palatine levels of nastiness!

Cargill has previously commited to implementing ‘a 100% sustainable supply chain’ for the palm oil it purchases, yet this is clearly not being enforced, and is quite frankly the part of this fiasco that makes me particularly angry. When questioned about it’s connections to PT Best in an interview with Reuters UK, they staed that they will stop buying from the company if any ‘illegality is proven’.

Um, hello? If a 23 year old retail worker can have access to information and evidence of their ‘illegality’, surely they, a customer of the offending firm should be aware of this?

Regardless of whether this is a deliberate act of deception or a just ‘turn a blind eye’ attitude towards PT Best, the actions of Cargill are not only dragging their reputation as a company committed to environmental sustainability through the mud, but their also dragging all the companies they supply to along with it, companies like Unilever, who are the word’s largest palm oil buyer, and who have also committed to switching to 100% Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.
The fact that companies are relying on the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil status, which we have already determined does not guarantee that they are doing the right thing, of other companies in their supply chain is quite frankly disturbing.

This incident with Cargill has made me increasingly uneasy about the whole palm oil industry, sustainable no; there are no easy answers, no black and white good or bad, and honestly I’m getting quite tired of all the smoke and mirrors. If anything, this is a perfect example of their needs to be not only a labelling system for all products that contain palm oil, but a proper set of checks and balances that are properly enforced across all members of the palm oil supply chain. Of course I understand that it’s not going to be so easy, but surely it would be easy enough to at least list palm oil as a separate ingredient on packaged foods?

I want the goddamn choice, and until it becomes properly available, it looks like I’m going to have to try to avoid as many foods that contain ‘vegetable oil’ as I can.

Sources:

Rainforest Action Network: Cargill Admits Buying Palm Oil from Illegally Cleared Orangutan Habitat, Chelsea Matthews

Environmental Investagtion Agency: Testing the Law

Reuters UK: Environment or profit: palm oil firm tests Indonesia

 

Myths of the Round Table: Just because they’re a member doesn’t mean they’re a knight

Hello friends!

I really hope this is what RSPO meetings look like

If you’ve been reading my most recent posts, you may have noticed that I’ve been trying to figure out who to trust in determining what contains Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, and what does not. Well I don’t know if it’s fate or serendipity or just plain luck, but something seems to be trying to help me along.
Whilst casually trawling through my twitter feed, I noticed a tweet posted by the Ethical Consumer Guide. It linked me to an article published on Rainforest Action Network titled The Great RSPO Membership Myth: Why Buying from RSPO Members Is Meaningless.
Although published in March 2011, this article cleared up a lot of things for me. Not only does it highlight the major difference between those who use Certified sustainable palm oil, and those who are members of the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil. It seems like companies, such as Wilmar, are using this to appear environmentally credible.

Here’s a letter written by the Rainforst Action Network to the CEO of Girl Scout Cookies America, who has been using their membership to gain environmental credibility.

Although Girl Scout cookie bakers have RSPO membership, RSPO membership does not provide any assurance that palm oil supplied by member companies is sustainable. Member companies have been documented clearing forest, peatland and critical wildlife habitat while ignoring human rights — all of which are prohibited in the RSPO principles and criteria. In essence RSPO membership does not ensure that deforestation, orangutan extinction, and climate change are not found in Girl Scout cookies.

Who would have thought those bite sized treats distributed by overly adorable girls abounding with freckles and pigtales and good intentions, could be causing so much harm!

This inspired me to have a look at some of the companies on my Products List, and try to figure out if they’re talking the talk.
Wilmar: Member of the RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Fonterra: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Kraft: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Mars: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Goodman Fielder: Member of the RSPO. committing to be using CSPO by 2015

Arnott’s Australia: Member of RSPO.  ommitting to be using CSPO by 2015

Unilever: Member of RSPO.  ommitting to using CSPO by 2015

Well, I certainly won’t be taking ‘But we’re members of the Round Table’ without the appropriate grain of salt.

Although this has made me a lot less confused, it is still a little worrying that the RSPO allows members that are still destroying rainforest and causing the deaths of thousands of Orangs. I know it is important in this kind of organisation to have members from all sides of the industry, but surely companies that are illegally logging protected forests, such as Wilmar, or are using their membership status to try and confuse consumers into thinking they are ethically sourcing palm oil, should not have a place at the table.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think the RSPO should be more strict about who they give membership to?
*EDIT*

I have since been informed that both Mars and Kraft have sustainable palm oil plans in place, and will hopefully reach their goals of using 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

I did a little more research and found this statement made by Mars. Although they do talk a lot about buying palm oil off members, which we know to be irrelevant if it isn’t certified, at least they have acknowledged this too. Let’s hope they can walk the walk.

We use only 0.2 percent of global palm oil supplies . However, it is present in many of our products, and we are committed to sourcing it more sustainably.

Mars is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a nonprofit membership organization that promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Through the RSPO, we are working to reduce the impacts of palm oil production and address concerns about the industry. While some environmental organizations have questioned the effectiveness of the RSPO, it is the only body that brings together all the relevant industry players, and we are committed to helping it create significant and lasting long-term change.

Currently, we only source palm oil from other RSPO members, although their product is not necessarily certified. We have begun purchasing certified palm oil for our European business and have set a target to use only 100-percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil by 2015 

Kraft also appears to be implementing changes to its palm oil supply chain; the Kraft Board has been requested by the shareholders to compile a sustainability report by December 2012. Hopefully, all of the following factors that were lacking from the current sustainability policy will be met.

• A company-wide policy on deforestation
• The percentage of purchases of Palm Oil, beef, soya, sugar and paper that are sustainably sourced, with clear goals for each commodity
• Results of audits to ensure that suppliers are in compliance with Kraft’s forestry goals  
• Identifying certification systems and programs that the company will use to ensure sustainable sourcing of each of these commodities. 
We shall see.

Thankyou Andy for pointing this out to me! This is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog, to learn these things and to keep the discussion going.

Tripa Update

I decided to do a little bit of investigating of the Tripa situation whilst at work the other day, and was almost serendipitously presented with an email doing just that! An email had been sent around highlighting ways in which we could help the cause, and I found two petitions it mentioned particularly interesting.

Currently there is a petition circulating on change.org, urging the Indonesian government to properly protect the Tripa Peat Swap Reserve, and the orangutans who call it home. I was particularly moved by the description of the

Over the last week a man made firestorm swept through a huge area of the remaining peat swamp forests of Tripa, devastating Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) to the very brink of extinction, possibly within months.

Critically important, the Tripa peat swamp forests of Aceh, Indonesia, have long been recognized as a UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership Priority Site for Great Ape Conservation.

In the early 90’s these forests are estimated to have contained between 2,000 and 3,000 but today only a few hundred survive, and if the current rate of forest destruction and burning continues, even these will be gone completely within a matter of months.

All the result of the illegal activities of a small number of rogue palm oil plantation companies.

Of one of these companies, PT. Kallista Alam, is actually right now being challenged in court, as it clearly contravenes National Spatial Planning Laws and the Indonesian President’s moratorium on new permits in primary forests and peatlands, supported by Norwegian taxpayers money.

The whole of the Tripa peat swamps lie within the Protected Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection in Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan established in 2008.

If this legal initiative fails, and if the current rate of destruction is not halted IMMEDIATELY, there will be no more forest and no more orangutans (and many other legally “protected” species) in Tripa by the end of 2012. This represents the death nell for this important orangutan population, the final nail in the coffin.

An Illegally Lit Fire in the Tripa Peat Region
Photo Courtesy of The Guardian UK

Sounds awful doesn’t it? They still need quite a few signatures to reach their goal of 15,000, so if this causes you to feel any of the countless negative emotions it evoked in me, please, sign the petition! You can already see how much it is helping on their update feed.

The second petition is one that targets palm oil buyers, specifically Goodman Fielder, and although it’s outcome has already been realised, I think it deserves a mention because of the clever name, and the incredible back story of its instigator. “Meadowlea, We Don’t Think You Ought To Be Congratulated”, a Community Run petition, is aimed at Goodman Fielder, Australia’s leading importer of fats and oils, to commit to 100% certified sustainable palm oil in their products by 2015. This petition was created by Chloe Nicolosi, who, at the tender age of twelve, stood before the Senate Committee at Parliament House and stated her case for why the Truth In Labelling Bill should be passed. I don’t remember what I was doing at twelve, but it certainly wasn’t campaigning for the protection of rainforests and the survival of an endangered species (I’m pretty sure I was watching NickCartoons on ABC and writing passionate love letters to Zack Hanson. I all of a sudden feel very much behind the eight ball).

Photo Courtesy of Orangutan.com

Chloe currently has 428 signatures, just 72 shy of her 500 mark. However, Goodman Fielder released a statement on their website in February this year, which states:

Goodman Fielder Limited shares community concerns regarding the ecological and environmental impacts of palm oil production in some areas of South East Asia, such as Borneo and Sumatra, and is pro-actively responding to these concerns.

The company supports the production of sustainable palm oil and is a member of the industry group, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Goodman Fielder commenced purchasing Green Palm certificates in September 2010, and intends to cover all palm oil used in the company’s Australian and New Zealand retail branded products by 2015. Our Integro Foods division has established a sustainable palm oil working group, which is investigating the feasibility of sourcing and supplying certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) through alternative RSPO-endorsed supply chain models, such as Mass Balance and Segregated CSPO (see www.rspo.org).

To the best of the company’s knowledge, any palm oil contained in our products in Australia and New Zealand is sourced from legally developed plantations and not from any party that, as far as we are aware, has engaged in illegal deforestation.

This is great news! The only thing that worries me about this statement is the “best of the companies knowledge” part. If you read my post that features the “Sustainability Lie” video, you would have read how Wilmar is claiming to use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, whilst illegally clearing prime rainforest for palm oil plantations, and lots of other nasty things. Wilmar currently owns 10% of Goodman Fielder; perhaps this “to the best of the companies knowledge” part is a way to cover their butts on this issue? I guess it’s something to think about.

Photo Courtesy of Orangutan.com

So please, if this is an issue that concerns, upsets, or angers you, please sign the petitions and help these fabulous people in their fight to save this beautiful species from extinction!

A Response from Arnott’s Australia!

So I’ve got some great news guys! I received a letter from Arnott’s! They were the first of my letters to respond in fact, which is great because this was one of the hardest companies for me to give up.
Here’s what they had to say

Hi Tegan

While Arnott’s Australia New Zealand (ANZ) uses only a small amount (less than 0.05%) of the total 40 million metric tonnes of palm oil produced annually, we are committed to playing our part by sourcing sustainable palm oil that avoids deforestation.

Arnott’s ANZ believes the most effective way to do this is to:
1. Reduce overall usage of palm oil
Since August 2010, we have decreased our current palm oil usage by approximately 25 percent by replacing palm oil with alternative oils across a number of products. The Company will remain committed to identifying opportunities to further reduce usage of palm oil on an ongoing basis.

2. Source certified sustainable palm oil
Working closely with its palm oil supplier, who is an active member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Arnott’s ANZ is targeting the use of 100% certified sustainable palm oil, if available, by 2015. We’re getting there by shifting around 20% of our supply each year to certified sustainable palm oil. We currently source from peninsular Malaysia only, from land which has been used to produce palm oil or other agriculture crops for decades.

You may also be interested to learn that Arnott’s commitment to sourcing sustainable ingredients goes beyond palm oil. Recently, we started working with Fairtrade Australia New Zealand to source only Fairtrade-certified cocoa from West Africa. Fairtrade-certified cocoa prohibits the use of the worst forms of child labour and empowers cocoa producing farmers to build a better and brighter future for themselves, their families and communities.

How great is this?! I’m going to write to them again and see if they have a list of the products that are already using sustainable palm oil, and then I’ll post it up on here!
This just goes to show that the consumer can dictate the choices that large companies make! It gives me so much hope! Sure, they aren’t there yet, but at least they taking the steps to get to a more sustainable future! Let’s just hope the palm oil they’re using is actually sustainable (I’m looking at you, Wilmar).

It’s Sustainable! Or is it?

This video was brought to my attention by the lovely people over at Milk Relief Soap. I urge you to have a look at it, it raises some very important points and questions about sustainability and how it is measured.

This certainly raised a lot of questions for me, so I decided to do a little bit of research. Wilmar International, the company in question, is the number one palm oil trader and palm biodeisil manufacturein the world. A report conducted by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, they have been illegally logging rainforests, setting them on fire, and violating the rights of local communities in Indonesia.

And yet they have been granted a sustainability certificate?
I was really hoping that the sustainability certificate that Wilmar has obtained was not from the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil. So I was rather distressed to find that Wilmar is a member of the Round Table itself. Even though they’re responibly for illegally clearing acres of rainforest, and forcing local communities off their rightfully owned land without compensation.

I don’t want to give up palm oil entirely, and not just because it will limit my choices at the supermarket. Palm Oil is an enormous industry that provides jobs for thousands people in South East Asia, most of whom have little to no other alternatives for employment. However, as a consumer, I don’t appreciate being led to believe that something is sustainable when it is clearly not. My own naivety certainly comes into play here, in that I was taking companie’s sustainability status at face value, mainly because I was clinging to the hope that there were actually large companies out there doing the right thing (and thus I can allow myself to eat them). Well, I certainly won’t be doing this any more, nor will I be partaking in any products supplied to or owned by Wilmar. But this sure does make it hard when Wilmar has just bought a 10% piece of Australia’s biggest bread manufactuer, Goodman Fielder earlier this year.

I would love to hear what you have to say on this issue. Please leave me your thoughts, comments and or questions below.

A Letter to … Arnott’s Australia

This is the big one!! Arnotts makes the products that I had the hardest time giving up, including my beloved Mint Slice, so I really hope that they not only get back to me, but they have some good new for me, too! If you would like to send a letter to Arnotts, that would be great! You can do so by leaving them feedback here, or send them a more formal hard copy letter! We might not be able to make them good for our health, but together we can try to make them better for the world!

To Whom It May Concern

Hello! My name is Tegan Webb, and I am contacting you, the makers of many of my favorite biscuits, including Tim Tams, Caramel Crowns, Royals, and Mint Slice, to not only commend you on a delicious products, but I was hoping you could answer a couple of my questions regarding this particular product.

I have recently embarked on a personal quest, of sorts, to only buy products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil, for ethical reasons. As I’m sure you would have heard, palm oil plantations are the major course of deforestation in many parts of South East Asia, and as an animal lover this concerns me a lot. I did notice that they contain Vegetable Oils and or Fats, and as palm oil is not required to be labelled I wanted to ask you if this palm oil sustainably sourced in accordance with the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil Criteria and, if not, would you ever consider switching to the use of sustainable palm oil?

Thankyou again for your fabulous food products, and I really hope the answer to my questions is yes, because I don’t want to have to give them up!

Thankyou for your time, I hope to hear from you soon! You can contact me at my email tewebb23@gmail.com or at the address provided above.

Yours Sincerely

Tegan Elizabeth Webb

Day Thirty!

Friends!!! Day Thirty has arrived!!! Hooray!

When I first embarked on this quest to give up all products that I knew were labelled with palm oil, I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. However, creating this blog has done so much to bolster my resolve, whilst simultaneously opened my eyes to a plethora of incredible, ethically produced, delicious food products (and the clever people behind them).

First and foremost, I must say thankyou to all you lovely people! You have kept me accountable through this whole thing, and your support advice and kind words have kept me from reaching for the biscuit tin. A lot has been said about the negative aspects of an online community, what with all the spam hackers and twitter trolls out there, but I really think that when used properly it can be an indispensable support system and can provide a lot information and opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. So thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!!

Today was a wonderful day; what better way to celebrate getting through a whole month without eating palm oil than going to OzComicCon !! Ok, it’s not at all related, but it was still great! I’m going to do a full follow-up post on my personal blog, but I will say this; although the fact that it was very badly organised meant that we missed out on seeing Patrick Stewart(:(:() I did get some pretty sweet art, and we got to see the Stan Lee panel which was AMAZING! He’s everything you want out of someone you admire, and more!

Breakfast: Tea. My most beloved beverage, where would I be without you to sedate my poor neglected stomach in those hours before lunch time

Lunch: With all the havoc of ComicCon, of navigating crowds of Cosplayers and stalls of comics and merchandise and two incredibly long lines (one to get in, and another for the Stan Lee panel), we didn’t get to have lunch until three thirty that day. By the time we got to Melbourne Public House, a simply chic yet warm restaurant and bar on South Warf, I was as ravenous as a Dire Wolf (I’ve just started watching Game of Thrones by the way. I know, I’m very behind). We ordered a bowl of wedges and some Pumpkin and Feta Aranchinni balls to share, and they were really tasty! The perfect meal for us to wind down from the chaos of ComicCon; I’d really like to go back there for a drink soon, when I’m not so hungover that is.

Dinner: After meeting up with Eleanor for a couple of ciders at the Brunswick Cider House (I can’t say no to a pot of Cheeky Rascal), we headed to our friend Anne’s for a girls night in. We had piles and piles of food, yet none of them were used to make a meal; salt and vinegar Pringle’s, pumpkin and basil dip, hommous, an amazing raw Vegan dip that Eleanor had made using a special kind of vegan cheese, Natural Confectionary Dinosaur Jellies (they’re owned by Cadbury, and thus are involved in using sustainably sourced palm oil), and Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food Icecream. Thank god they used Coconut Oil, or I might have cried, or worse, thrown in the towel. And then wiped all the chocolate icecream off my face with it.

In the midst of this Saturday Night food orgy that could have put the Romans to shame, we watched one of the most amazing movies I think I’ve ever seen; honestly, I don’t why I haven’t seen it before now, I really have no excuse. For those of you who were like me up until last night, and have never seen WALL.E, stop what you’re doing… wait no… finish reading this post, and then stop what ever else you are doing and get yourself a copy, either physical or digital, and make yourself a hot drink, and then watch it. It is the sweetest, most beautifully shot, most adorably thought provoking movie, and really it was the most perfect way to end this part of my journey to minimising my impact on this planet I call home. This is the first movie I’m going to show my children, (when they’re old enough of course) in the hope that like a single plant growing out of a pile of trash, they will grow with the understanding of the importance and the wonder of life on earth planted firmly in their minds. And at least it will tide them over until they are old enough for me to show them the Lord of the Rings. And then Star Wars. And then Studio Gibli. Oh god, my poor children.

Although this is technically my last day of the challenge, the fight is far from over. Palm Oil is still not labelled properly on most packaged foods, and something still needs to be done! I am currently drafting a letter that I will send to my local MP, asking him to back this legislation and force it through Parliament; I will certainly keep you updated on how this goes, as well as the responses from the food companies that I have currently contacted, and more developments on the sustainable usage front.
Although the month has ended and I’m ceasing to record my daily meals, I will still be updating this blog frequently with more recipes, news, and projects. I am by no means going straight to Coles and filling my basket with every type of Arnott’s Biscuit I can get my hands on. Now that I see all the amazing paths I can take in terms of what I choose to consume, and now that I know the effects it has on the world around me, there’s no way I can go back. For me, this is incredibly exciting; for what I have lost, I have gained so much more. And I’m going to continue to push my limits, and learning all that I can, until I reach my goal of being the most ethical consumer I can be.

As for my once beloved mint slice? Well, I still do find myself longing for that sweet kiss of dark chocolate and mint creme, but the difference is that know it can be reduced to a mere whisper with all the knowledge I have gained over the past month. And who knows, if Arnott’s do end up coming to their senses and start using sustainable palm oil, we may not be separated for too much longer.

I’ve learnt a lot of things this past month, I could go on about it for pages and pages, but I’m sure you have much more important things to do than read any more of my ramblings, so I’ll keep it short.
In the end it comes down to the fact that there is only one planet, and we should not let ourselves be so blinded by our own arrogance to declare that we own it; instead, let’s treat it how we would like to be treated. I know that I am not where I want to be yet, despite my best intentions, but I can’t wait to see what I discover on the way to getting there.