Palm oil & chocolate

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The holiday season is coming and if your family is anything like mine that means there will be a lot of chocolate given, eaten and enjoyed. Huzzah! The time of year you can eat chocolate with complete freedom, knowing that you are part of an international movement of chocolate lovers. Not that I’m obsessed with chocolate. Okay, my last two blogs have been about chocolate. And I was a member of ChocSoc at university. Other than that, I’m a relatively normal member of society, who happens to like chocolate.

Palm oil is still harvested entirely by hand.Palm oil is still harvested entirely by hand.                                                                       ©James Morgan/WWF International

What, other than the sheer joy of chocolate, does the festive season have to do with WWF?

Chocolate, in its many forms, often contains palm oil. From chocolate coated biscuits to chocolate spreads to chocolate ice-cream, palm oil in its various forms and derivatives is a common ingredient. It is also in shampoo, detergents and toothpastes too (palm oil, not chocolate).

Palm oil, when grown unsustainably, contributes to deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, ranging from orang-utans and tigers through to butterflies and bugs, and everything in between. It’s not just the wildlife that are losing their homes. Traditional owners can lose their connection to the land and livelihoods, to make way for unsustainable plantations.

Forest fires due to land clearing for agriculture such as oil palm plantations cause significant air pollution, and the effects of this are not only felt by people in the country doing the clearing, but also surrounding countries. The clearing of forests and conversion of peat land in Malaysia and Indonesia (which together provide around 85% of the world’s palm oil) generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia is said to be the third largest emitter of GHG emissions in the world (behind China and the USA). Recent calculations indicate that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.

This isn’t right. I can’t enjoy my chocolate knowing that all of this is going on to make my favourite snack.

So what can we do in order to have our chocolate and eat it too? Let companies know that unsustainable palm oil in their products is not acceptable.

The transformation of the market to sustainable palm oil is happening, but too slowly to save some forests. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to help transform the market to a sustainable one. As of August 2014, 18% of the world’s palm oil is RSPO certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). Although 18% represents decent growth in a short period, the urgency of the issue and the rate of clearing of forests, means that the industry needs to move even faster.

Palm Oil Supermarket ProductsPalm Oil Supermarket Products                                                                           © WWF-Canon/Richard Stonehouse

How can we get this figure higher? We need to create demand. We can do this by demanding that manufacturers and retailers use only 100% CSPO in their products. Boycotts of palm oil are not the answer – boycotts don’t tell manufacturers why you aren’t buying their products, they might even encourage manufacturers to change to other vegetable oils, which are less productive – and therefore may be less sustainable – than palm oil. Boycotts also harm the people on the ground in Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and South America who rely on the income from growing oil palm fruit to live. Use your consumer power to tell companies that you want 100% CSPO in your products. How?

Watch this video, and send a tweet to the companies using palm oil. Let them know you want them to use 100% CSPO.

Join the united nations of chocolate lovers and call for chocolate manufacturers and retailers around the world to use only sustainable palm oil. Let companies from all around the world know that you want them to use only 100% CSPO too. You can also go to the company Facebook pages and let them know you want 100% CSPO. Go old school and send them an email or write a letter. If they are already sourcing 100% CSPO, congratulate them on this.

At this time of year support sustainable palm oil and ask companies to do the same. And when you are done, have some chocolate. You deserve it!


Darian McBain is Sustainable Palm Oil Manager for WWF-Australia

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