Orang-utan plea fails to move panel on palm oil
Carmel Egan, The Sunday Age – June 15 2008
A WILDLIFE campaigners’ bid to force food manufacturers to list palm oil on product labels has been rejected by federal authorities.
The campaigners blame the expansion of palm oil plantations across Indonesia and Malaysia for rainforest destruction that is pushing orang-utans towards extinction.
They had hoped that manufacturers would be required by law to declare the use of palm oil in their products — including ice cream, biscuits and margarine — but the campaigners’ appeal to Food Standards Australia New Zealand was deemed outside the authority’s jurisdiction.
Mornington Peninsula mother-of-three Amanda Enright was among those who applied to FSANZ to make palm oil use a labelling requirement.
She was motivated by a desire to “give consumers with ethical, environmental, religious or other reasons the ability to make informed choices and avoid certain foods”.
“Today’s consumers are largely uninformed as to what’s in their food, where it came from or the environmental impact of its production,” Ms Enright said.
“This restricts their ability to affect the marketplace in a positive way through their purchasing power. Producers, manufacturers and suppliers are not being held fully accountable for their actions and are therefore able to get away with murder.”
But the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Jan McLucas, has informed Ms Enright her appeal had failed. “FSANZ has advised me that your application cannot be considered further as it is outside the scope of its legal capacity,” Ms McLucas wrote just over a week ago.
“Your concern regards an international environmental issue and, as such, does not raise issues relating to the supply, adequacy or safety of food in Australia and New Zealand. Your concerns relating to consumer choice do not extend to the supply, safety or adequacy of food. The objectives of the FSANZ Act do not extend to choices about international environmental issues.”
High in saturated fats, palm oil has a long shelf life and is used as a binding agent in many supermarket products, including detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, lipstick and paint. It is also used in commercial deep-frying as it has superior crisping qualities and does not taint food flavours.
By law, manufacturers must declare the use of peanut, soy bean and sesame oils under food allergy regulations.
Dairy products identify the source of animal fats and oils.
But there are no such regulations for palm oil, which is believed to constitute up to 10% of the content of Australian processed foods.
People who want to avoid palm oil will have to continue to guess about its possible inclusion in foods based on disclosures about high levels of saturated fats. If the ingredient list states “vegetable oil” and the nutrition panel shows the item has high levels of saturated fat, then it is likely to contain palm oil.