Keep Orang-utans out of Your Food
Did you realise that every time we wash our hands with soap, spread a slice of bread with margarine, munch a couple of biscuits, apply lipstick or light a candle, we could be endangering the future of the orang-utan?
These products contain palm oil which comes from the flesh of the oil palm fruit. Palm oil is used extensively in the food industry because it does not raise blood cholesterol, has a bland taste and is stable when heated. It also contains 15 times more health-giving carotenoids than carrots. 83% of palm oil production and 89% of exports come from Malaysia and Indonesia which also happen to be the home of the orang-utan. Already over 90% of its habitat has been destroyed and a recent report by Friends of the Earth concludes that without urgent intervention, the last orang-utan could disappear within 12 years. It has been estimated that at present around 5000 orang-utans die each year as a result of deforestation.
The demand for palm oil is so great that vast areas of the tropical rainforest, in which the orang-utans live, are being cut down to make way for new palm oil plantations. A new plantation of over 1.8 million hectares is being planned. This immense plantation, funded by China, is equivalent in size to half of the Netherlands and would destroy much of the orang-utan’s remaining natural habitat.
Not only that, studies carried out by the World Wildlife Fund have shown that the land they are planning to use is not suitable for the growth of oil palms, being too mountainous and infertile.
Furthermore, research by Friends of the Earth has found that most companies which use palm oil do not know where it comes from and hence cannot tell if they are adding to the crisis. Over 100 UK companies and every UK supermarket is contributing in some measure to the extinction of an intelligent creature which shares 97% of its genes with us. Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK government to ensure that companies have a legal duty to minimise the environmental impact of their use of palm oil through the Company Law Reform Bill.
The World Wildlife Fund is part of a forum on sustainable palm oil development which is working to ensure that all palm oil plantations are based on sustainable and environmental principles.
But will this be enough to save the orang-utan from extinction? We can do our bit by insisting that those products we buy are properly labelled so that we can choose to avoid those which use palm oil from sensitive areas of Indonesia.