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Palm oil: How you can save Asia’s jungles

By Emma Napper, Producer on Seven Worlds, One Planet and Deyá Ward from the Orangutan Alliance

I’m Responsible

Borneo has lost almost 40% of its forest in the last 10 years to Palm oil. One of the animals most affected by this habitat loss is the orangutan. For Seven Worlds, One Planet we filmed a mother and her baby inside one of their last strongholds, Gunung Palung National park. But increasingly these beautiful creatures are under threat as their homes are cut down.

When I started making the Asia film, I had almost no idea about palm oil. But spending 4 years looking into the wildlife of South East Asia I now realise that the way we consume palm oil in the UK, is critical to looking after Asia’s forests and their animals.

I don’t find this depressing. I find it urgent, frightening and inspiring. I know that by changing my behaviour I can help to save these amazing Jungles. I have watched horrible footage over the years of orangutans and other animals suffering as their homes are destroyed.

But now I don’t feel helpless. I can be part of the solution!

Palm oil

Palm oil is an ingredient that you probably buy every day, but maybe you don’t know it.

Orangutan being rescued by International Animal Rescue from areas of deforestation

It is in everything from biscuits to lipstick, biofuel to shampoo.

The companies that sell palm oil have a choice, they can produce it on existing plantations OR they can cut down more rainforest.

I have a choice too…. I can look for palm oil that is grown sustainably.

It might seem like boycotting palm oil might be a good option, but its not that simple. Palm oil is incredibly efficient and it is the vegetable oil used in half the packaged products in our supermarkets (bread, cereals, ready meals, chocolates for example). There are other vegetable oils but they grow less efficiently. If we switch to different oil it might take up more land than palm oil.

I don’t think palm oil is going to go away – but it can be produced without destroying the environment.

Companies can sign up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSP0 https://rspo.org/) and pledge to

  • Trace where the palm oil comes from
  • Stop cutting down forest to produce palm oil
  • Even if they cannot move immediately to zero deforestation palm oil, they can use oil that is partially sustainable
  • An important part of the sustainable label is fair workers' rights and conditions

Palm Oil: The facts about sustainable palm oil

Experts explain how palm oil is affecting rainforests and what we need to do as consumers.

How can I tell whether palm oil I’m buying is sustainable?

Orangutan being rescued by International Animal Rescue from areas of deforestation

“We need to be able to know the origin of the palms. Sustainable palm oil might be related to a company that has actually burned land or drained peat to plant oil palm.”
Karmele Llano Sanchez, Chief Veterinarian and Program Director of International Animal Rescue

There are some apps and websites that help you see whether palm oil is sustainably sourced. Some people are also calling for a clear label on products made from sustainable palm oil, to make it easier for consumers to make a choice.

And there are websites that look at how well companies are doing switching to sustainable palm oil

Follow the BBC on #sustainableme and #begreener for more info on how to live you life with less impact on the planet!