UK: Supermarket comes to aid of rainforest with palm oil ban

UK: Supermarket comes to aid of rainforest with palm oil ban

Date Published: November 21, 2007 Source: Guardian Unlimited

Sainsbury’s has announced a ban on an ingredient used in tens of thousands of its products that is blamed for the destruction of tropical rainforests.

The supermarket chain said it would phase out the use of palm oil from unsustainable sources in its own-brand food, after pressure from campaigners and customers . It is estimated that the oil is used in one in 10 of all products sold in Britain.

Booming demand for palm oil has fuelled concerns over the felling of huge sections of rainforest in countries such as Indonesia to make way for plantations.

Sainsbury’s says it intends to accept palm oil only from certified sustainable sources, starting with plantations in Colombia. It has pledged to convert its first products to the new sustainable oil by next May, and will announce a deadline for the total phase-out of unsustainable sources by February. It also intends to label the use of palm oil in all of its food by July.

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s brand, said: “From soap to biscuits, palm oil is in thousands of everyday food and beauty items wherever you shop. Rather than banning the use of palm oil, we want to find a sustainable solution that will stop deforestation while continuing to support the communities that rely on its production.”

Only a small amount of palm oil on the world market is from sustainable sources, and Sainsbury’s said it would encourage suppliers in Borneo to clean up their act. Cutting down primary forest releases greenhouse gases and is driving animals such as the orangutan towards extinction.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation called the supermarket’s move a “huge step”. Adam Harrison, senior food and agriculture policy officer for WWF, said: “We welcome Sainsbury’s move to address the serious impacts of palm oil demand and hope their actions will inspire others to follow suit.”

The announcement follows a move this summer by the Body Shop and Asda to cut their use of palm oil from unsustainable sources. Asda plans to phase it out from 500 products and has banned supplies from the worst-affected regions in Borneo and Sumatra. Body Shop has pledged to use only sustainable palm oil in its soap.

The Swiss supermarket Migros banned the use of palm oil linked to forest destruction in its own-brand products in 2002.

Hannah Griffiths, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The supermarkets are in a difficult position because they are under pressure to act, but growing sustainable palm oil on the massive scale required is very difficult. And the certification is no guarantee that the oil is truly sustainable.”

An investigation by Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands linked several Indonesian suppliers which were certified as sustainable to illegal burning, habitat destruction and unapproved plantation development.

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