The hidden cost of palm oil

Are you sure the products you buy don’t contain palm oil? Think again …

Sodium laureth sulphate, ascorbyl palmitate and vegetable oil are just some of the 200 different ways palm oil can be labelled on a product’s ingredients list. The government knows it’s nearly impossible not to buy palm oil, but refuses to tighten up labelling laws.

Our Unmask Palm Oil campaign is rapidly gathering support from the public and opposition parties such as the Greens and New Zealand First to make palm oil labelling mandatory.

Palm oil is an ingredient in processed food, cosmetics, shampoo and soap. Its widespread use is driving deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, which in turn has launched land conflicts with indigenous communities, devastated the natural habitat of hundreds of plant and animal species, including tigers, elephants and orangutans, and resulted in carbon emissions of two billion tonnes a year from Indonesia alone.

Many New Zealanders know palm oil has issues, and are doing their best to avoid buying it. Awareness about palm oil was especially high after the 2009 boycott of Cadbury in New Zealand, which led the confectionary giant to remove palm oil from its dairy milk chocolate.

However, awareness of New Zealand’s labelling laws remains low. As a campaigner, I’m always meeting people who confidently tell me they never buy products containing palm oil because they always check the ingredients list for the words ‘palm oil’.

In reality, to determine if a product contains palm oil, you’d need to check the ingredients list for more than 200 different terms – plus hope you don’t encounter ‘vegetable oil’, which can be any kind of oil.

Unmask Palm Oil is campaigning to help shoppers avoid palm oil through compulsory labelling. When our campaign is successful, consumers will be able to look at an ingredients list and know with one glance whether or not the product contains palm oil.

Our campaign is building momentum, with the aim of persuading Simon Bridges, Minister for Consumer Affairs, that New Zealanders want the option of not supporting the palm oil industry. So far the Minister has refused to consider the policy and has ignored nine months of repeated requests to meet with Unmask Palm Oil representatives.

His opposition is based on the flawed argument that mandatory labelling means consumers wouldn’t be able to distinguish standard palm oil from the conversional, ‘sustainable’ palm oil. One simple solution would be for companies to promote their palm oil as sustainable, through logos and information on their packets.

While the Government is unwilling to make any changes, New Zealand First and the Greens are fully supportive of the policy and Labour will be making a decision on the issue shortly. The aim is to present a petition to parliament in August after gathering 10,000 signatures.

With species such as the orangutan heading for extinction, there’s no time to waste. As consumers, we need our own Government to provide the information we need to avoid buying such an unsustainable product.

Sign the petition, spread the word – and demand clearer labelling. Visit www.unmaskpalmoil.co.nz for more.

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