Feb 22 2012 by Thomas
“IF WE ARE WHAT WE EAT, THEN WE SHOULD HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT WE’RE EATING.”
What is palm oil?
Palm oil, which is found in everything from cookies and ice-cream, to soaps and cosmetics, fuels unprecedented large-scale deforestation, orangutan genocide and prostitution, gross human rights and labor violations, as well as global warming and the destruction of hundreds of delicate ecosystems across South-East Asia.
Surely Australians deserve to have the choice whether or not to contribute to this shocking devastation? No, we don’t.
Baby orangutan clinging to its death mother, who was bashed by palm oil plantation workers.
Palm oil is used in around 50% of all products on supermarket shelves in Australia. It can be found in everything from pre-packaged snack foods and milk, to cosmetics and biofuels.
This popular vegetable oil may be extremely diverse in its use, but it is not good news when it comes to our health, the environment or the survival and welfare of our closest primate relative; the orangutan.
Each hour, an area the size of 300 football fields of pristine, bio-diverse rainforest is destroyed in South-East Asia, so that the land can be replaced with large-scale palm oil plantations.
To produce one ingredient that is used to make our sugary, sweet confectionery and smooth, fragrant body products - palm oil.
The effects of palm oil
Lone Droscher-Nielsen, founder and manager of Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Centre in Central Borneo, says: “It’s hard to describe (the deforestation in Borneo). But for me, it’s like a manmade tsunami.” Lone also believes that palm oil is the main cause of this ‘manmade tsunami’, which is having a devastating impact on species like the orangutan: “Palm oil is now the greatest threat to the survival of orangutans in the wild.”
Typical palm oil plantation in South-East Asia – stretching as far as the eye can see.
This rainforest that is being logged for palm oil is the last remaining habitat of the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan species.
These magnificent acrobats of the jungle once inhabited massive areas of rainforest, stretching as far as Thailand and even southern China. Now, only a very small percentage of their habitat remains, and they are restricted to small pockets of forest on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
Infant clinging to dead mother after witnessing her brutal death.
Orangutans share 97% of our genetics (DNA) and have the intelligence of a 5-to-6 year old human child.
Despite this amazing intelligence and similarity to humans, approximately 12 orangutans are killed each day to make way for palm oil plantations.
These gentle, self-aware beings are killed in the most inhumane ways. On a weekly basis, rescue teams find mangled bodies of murdered orangutans in logging sights that have been hacked with machetes, run over by machinery, buried alive and even doused in petrol and set alight.
Mother orangutans have their babies taken from them, crammed into small crates and sold as pets. The mother orangutan is then either killed, or captured and taken to an Indonesian brothel; where she will be used as a prostitute and raped repeatedly each day.
The species is estimated to be extinct in the wild within 10 years if these disgusting acts of genocide continue.
“When we saw the big male approaching our camp, we were afraid. So we quickly ran over to him, doused him in petrol and set him on fire.” – Fermin, a bulldozer driver at a logging sight in Borneo.
Orangutans are not the only species facing extinction due to palm oil.
Tigers, elephants, rhinos, gibbons, tarsiers, sun bears, tapirs and monkeys are among just a few of the hundreds of unique species in Borneo and Sumatra which may face extinction in the very near future.
Another significant issue surrounding palm oil is the impact it is having on the indigenous people of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Many of the native communities have relied on the rainforest as a livelihood for the past 50,000 years.
Yet, in the last 30 years, over 50% of all forest cover in Borneo has been destroyed and replaced by palm oil crops.
Surely that means the hundreds of indigenous communities living within these ancient, virgin forests have been dramatically impacted? Well, according to organisations like “The Malaysian Palm Oil Council”, this is not true.
They state “Palm Oil is nature’s gift to Malaysia, and Malaysia’s gift to the world.” (Despite the fact palm oil is native to Western Africa).
Din Perulak, the Chief of the ‘Orang Rimba’ (tribe of 3,000 indigenous Sumatrans living in Southern Sumatra): "I am so unhappy about these gigantic new oil palm plantations. Our forest which we, Orang Rimba, have gathered fruit, which has sustained us, has completely disappeared. There are plantations everywhere. I ask you: how are we supposed to survive when there is no forest anymore?"
The need for mandatory labelling
All of this suffering comes down to that one ingredient… But no matter how hard you look, you’ll rarely find palm oil labelled on a product.
That’s because there is no law on the mandatory labelling of palm oil in Australia, meaning that Australians are blinded by the fact that their favourite biscuit brand or shampoo product may, and probably does, contain palm oil that is responsible for one of the biggest ecological catastrophes and acts of genocide in history.
The labelling of palm oil is not only necessary for environmental and animal welfare reasons, but also for health purposes.
Palm oil is unlike any other vegetable oil, having a very high level of saturated fat content at 50%, therefore having the ability to increase cholesterol levels and promote heart disease.
On the first attempt, the government rejected the palm oil labelling bill, after 18 months of campaigning by a number of celebrities and politicians, Melbourne Zoo and hundreds-of-thousands-of everyday Australians.
This was unacceptable. So one week later, Nick Xenophon (a South Australian barrister and politician), took the bill back to parliament, and fortunately the senate approved it!
This is fantastic news, however, there is still one more stage to go until the law can be in-forced.
The bill is now going through an enquiry by the House of Economics Committee, which is taking part late August/early September.
This means we still need to keep the pressure on the parliament of Australia to pass this bill and make the labelling of palm oil a mandatory law.
We need to tell the Government of Australia that WE DESERVE THE CHOICE; PALM OIL NEEDS TO BE LABELLED.
There are laws on the mandatory labelling of sesame oil, peanut oil and soybean oil, but not palm oil. If our government cannot solve minor problems like this, then forget about the bigger environmental and animal welfare issues.
Ultimately, if the government of Australia cannot enforce a law on the labelling of one ingredient, then the development of this country is clearing going backwards.
What you can do
Please take a few minutes of your time to send an email or letter to your Federal MP.
Express your opinion about the labelling of palm oil, and tell them: “I am only one voice of the 162,317 Australians who have asked for the mandatory labelling of palm oil. We do not have any more time to waste debating this issue. This crisis now requires immediate action.”
Because at the end of the day, our generation are the ones who are going to have to face these issues in the future; and if some of them, even minor ones like enforcing a law on the labelling of one ingredient, cannot be solved, then in my opinion there is no hope for the future of this planet and its inhabitance.
“If we are what we eat, then we should have a right to know what we’re eating.”
Click here for the list of Australian Federal MPs and their contact details.
For more information on the palm oil crisis, visit my website: www.saynotopalmoil.com
- Thomas King – 15 Years Old. Anti-Palm Oil Ambassador.
We have a choice, orangutans do not.