Supermarkets under fire over destruction of orangutan habitat

Supermarkets under fire over destruction of orang-utan habitats

Sydney Morning Herald: Melissa Singer: April 1, 2010

HOME-BRAND biscuits, dressings, and even shampoo, are contributing to the destruction of orang-utan populations in South-East Asia faster than their branded cousins, a report reveals.

The Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard, produced by the World Wildlife Fund, ranks Coles and Woolworths at the bottom of a table of six leading food and grocery companies. Each of the supermarkets scored two out of a possible 29, beaten in Australia only by Goodman Fielder, which scored 4.5.

Companies were assessed on their use of palm oil and their willingness to adopt more sustainable and transparent practices, which could include clearer labelling, buying palm oil that is ”certified sustainable” and buying offset certificates, similar to carbon credits.

Unilever and Cadbury, which has announced it is switching to Fair Trade sources of cocoa, scored 24.5 and 24 respectively. Lydia Gaskell, a WWF spokeswoman, said Australian food companies were ”way behind” on sustainability. ”There hasn’t been a direct link between what we’re buying in Australia and what’s happening in Indonesia and Malaysia, even though they are our neighbours,” she said.

The United Nations Environment Program says palm oil production could wipe out 98 per cent of orang-utan habitats by 2022. Ms Gaskell said Australian companies had no excuse for adopting a ”wait and see approach” on palm oil.

In response, Woolworths announced this week it would switch to 100 per cent sustainable palm oil by 2015 and use palm oil substitutes where possible. It will also clearly state where a product contains palm oil, which is often disguised as generic ”vegetable oil”.

Palm oil use has soared in recent years because it is cheaper than other oils and contains no trans-fats, although it is high in saturated fat. Armineh Madirossian, Woolworths’s group sustainability manager, said only 5 per cent of premium home-brand products on the Select label contained palm oil.

Coles said it had already removed palm oil from many of its home-brand products and was the first retailer to adopt transparent labelling on a ”broad scale”.

A spokesman for Goodman Fielder, Ian Greenshields, said the company would purchase Green Palm certificates because of the high cost and concerns about the integrity of single-origin sustainable palm oil. ”The systems available for certification thus far have not been absolutely robust,” Mr Greenshields said.

Certified sustainable palm oil costs about 60 per cent more than non-sustainable oil.

Martin Pritchard, a palm oil spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said the WWF had ”broken ranks” with the environmental movement by joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

He encouraged Woolworths to pursue its bid to join the RSPO. ”It’s the best of the worst schemes available,” he said.

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