Wildlife groups hail new EU legislation as a boost for responsible palm oil production

12 December 2014 Ape Alliance News

New Europe-wide legislation which comes into effect tomorrow (13th December) means that palm oil will no longer be a hidden ingredient on food packaging – a move which conservation groups are hailing as a significant step forward for the protection of orangutans and other endangered species.

The production of palm oil, a vegetable oil found in up to half of all packaged food on supermarket shelves, is a major driver of deforestation in countries across south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa. Previously hidden behind the generic term 'vegetable oil' on ingredients lists, most consumers were unaware of the link between their weekly shop and the expansion of plantations into lowland rainforests, threatening many iconic species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos in SE Asia and, as plantations expand in Africa, gorillas, chimpanzees and African forest elephants.

A coalition of conservation groups, including the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), Elephant Family, Orangutan Foundation, Save the Rhino, the Jane Goodall Institute, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Ape Alliance, have been working together to tackle the problem.

Following their Clear Labels, Not Forests campaign in 2011, the EU adopted a new law which requires the labelling of specific vegetable oils, including palm oil, on food products. Companies were given three years to comply, and the new legislation comes into force on 13th December 2014.

Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), explained the significance of the new law: ‘Mandatory labelling will support vital changes in the palm oil industry by allowing shoppers to make informed choices about what they buy. Responsible companies that make or sell products containing palm oil will want to reassure their customers that their products are not contributing to deforestation and loss of wildlife. Retailers and manufacturers now have the incentive to play their part in transforming the palm oil industry and breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation.’

The group acknowledges that labelling palm oil makes it easier for shoppers to avoid products containing it altogether, but caution that a boycott may have unintended consequences.

Helen Buckland said ‘Avoiding palm oil may not actually help protect orangutans and other biodiversity. All agriculture has a footprint, and palm oil is a very efficient way of producing vegetable oil – if companies were forced to switch to alternative oils, up to ten times as much land would be needed to meet global demand for vegetable oils. A boycott might also drive the price of palm oil down, possibly leading to increased demand in markets such as India and China. What we need to do is ensure that it is cultivated in the least damaging way possible.’

The group are encouraging consumers to support companies that have made commitments to use responsible palm oil, produced without harming the environment or local communities. They have produced a comprehensive factsheet to help consumers make informed choices, available online fromFor more information, images, or to arrange an interview, please contact Helen Buckland on +44 (0)1865 403341 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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