Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Singapore smog and palm oil

How many of our food products contain palm oil?

indonesia fires
Thick smoke from raging forest fires rise in Pelalawan regency in Riau province, located in Indonesia's Sumatra island on June 21, 2013. While Singapore and Indonesian environment ministers met in Jakarta on June 21 to discuss the haze problem, Indonesia deployed aircraft to artificially create rain in a bid to douse raging fires that have choked Singapore with smog, which is hitting record-breaking levels that pose a threat to the elderly and the ill. (Photo credit: HAFIZ ALFARISSI/AFP/Getty Im

Indonesia Fires, Singapore Smog Likely Caused By Palm Oil Companies
Posted: 06/21/2013 6:52 pm EDT  |  Updated: 06/22/2013 12:21 pm EDT

Palm oil companies are suspected of illegally starting widespread forest fires in Indonesia in order to clear land for palm oil plantations, Indonesian officials say. The fires have caused record levels of hazardous smog in neighboring Singapore since Wednesday.
Reuters U.K. reported Friday that the destructive blazes on the island of Sumatra had been "deliberately set." Indonesian officials said eight companies were responsible for the fires, and more are likely to be named on Saturday, per Reuters.
"Since the fires are happening mostly on plantation lands, we believe there are plantation companies involved," Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, according to The Times of India. "The president has already put together a team to investigate who owns the plantations."
The paper notes that the illegal burning of forests generally happens from June to September each year -- during Indonesia's dry season.
"This recent smog is just the most visible part of the serious deforestation and human rights crisis sweeping Indonesia," Laurel Sutherlin of the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental organization, told The Huffington Post via email Friday. "Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra."
Complicating matters, some big palm oil companies that operate in Indonesia are based in Singapore or have Singaporean investors. According to a BBC report, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that if any Singaporean companies, or companies with a presence in Singapore, played a part in the fires, they would be held responsible.
Asia Pacific Resources International, which has palm oil operations on Sumatra and offices in a number of countries including Singapore, was one of the companies named by Indonesian officials in connection with the fires. However, the company says on its website that it has had a "no-burn policy" in place since 1994.
A staple for cooking throughout Southeast Asia and elsewhere, palm oil is the single largest traded vegetable oil commodity in the world, and global demand is rising rapidly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. The oil is increasingly used in the manufacture of cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals and industrial products. It is also used to make biodiesel fuel.
Indonesia produces more palm oil than anywhere else in the world, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The slash-and-burn methods apparently being used in the Indonesian jungle have caused the worst smog in Singapore's history. The Pollutant Standards Index reached a high of 401 in the city-state at noon on Friday, according to The Independent. A measurement over 400 is said to be life-threatening to sick and elderly people, the paper notes.
Singapore's prime minister said Thursday that the smog could last for weeks or more.

There is considerable controversty in South-East Asia as to whether palm-oil producers are the cause of the smog over the region:
Oil palm producer Sime Darby reiterates zero-burning policy in Indonesia - Channel NewsAsia
Palm oil producers deny slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia - Channel NewsAsia

And most producers have come on board the RSPO - Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
However, there are doubts expressed about the impact of the RSPO:
The main issues flagged include: The impact of palm oil plantation expansion on the Orangutan population; Destruction of tropical forest for the new oil palm plantation schemes in South-East Asia; The burning and draining of large tracks of peat swamp forest in Kalimantan, Indonesia.[12] The fact that RSPO members are allowed to clear cut-pristine forest areas, when there would be large areas of Imperata grasslands (alang alang) available in e.g. Indonesia[13] raises doubts about the commitment on sustainability, se e.g. Bumitama Agri's CSR (Corporate social responsibility) on logging practices.[14]
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
When you go to the grocery store and you buy a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, crackers, ice-cream, doughnuts, frozen snacks or other candy, you may see a label on the products saying ‘RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil’ or ‘Green Palm Sustainability.’ Such labeling makes it is easy to think that the product you are holding contains palm oil that has been produced responsibly. But what does the label really stand for?            The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a global certification scheme formed in 2004 to set the standard for ‘sustainable palm oil’. But the sad truth is, many of the companies that use these labels are in fact still causing rainforest destruction and the clearance and draining of carbon-rich peatlands that release massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.          Shockingly, Indonesia – the world’s largest palm oil producer – is also the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter after only China and the US. But unlike China and the US, 50% of Indonesia’s emissions are from cleared and drained peat lands, and 35% from clearing rainforests. Palm oil expansion is one of the top drivers of this destruction but under the RSPO these companies don’t need to publicly report the emissions they are responsible for. How are we going to fix this global problem if companies don’t fess up to their emissions? Why ‘RSPO Sustainable Palm Oil’ is not responsible » Rainforest Action Network Blog
Whilst the likes of Greenpeace are very clear, the comments below suggest some 'green-spinning':
This is what a massive forest fire looks like
Posted by Richardg - 25 June 2013 at 11:31am
All rights reserved. Credit: Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
Huge forest fires in Indonesia are blanketing Singapore and Malaysia with record-breaking pollution
The Sumatran rainforests, home to the last Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinos, are on fire. Our team have been on the ground documenting the disaster. These devastating images show what they found.
It is not yet clear exactly why the fires started, although the Indonesian government believes at least some of the fires were started deliberately. The Indonesian president has alsooffered an apology for the pollution which has swept across the Malacca Straits to Singapore and Malaysia, causing record-breaking smog levels.
Palm oil and paper companies have tried to shift the blame onto local communities, but they bear much of the responsibility. Their destructive practices created the conditions that make these fires so easy to start and hard to stop.
Peatland is normally waterlogged and therefore very hard to ignite. But companies like APRIL and Duta Palma have been draining Sumatra's peatlands to make way for plantations. When dry, peat is a perfect fuel and very hard to extinguish.
Indonesia's peatlands store billions of tonnes of carbon, so the fires are a disaster for the climate. In 1997 and 1998, similar fires swept across Sumatra and Borneo, releasing 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
It can be no coincidence that many of these fires are within the concessions of some of the biggest palm oil and paper companies where they have a licence to convert the forest into plantations.
All told, the fires are a disaster. Valuable habitat for endangered and maybe even undiscovered species is being lost, huge volumes of carbon built up over centuries is being pumped into the atmosphere, and severe pollution is affecting millions of people.

I'm pleased to see you are at least covering this disaster and i'm sure it doesn't take inspector Cleuso Clouseou to deduce that the fires were started by those with palm oil interests to clear the forest for yet more destructive crops.
Unfortunately the whole palm oil industry was the result of environmentalists push for biofuels. Not only is rainforest habitat being lost and wildlife incinerated but the diversion of nearly 40% of the American maize crop from food to biofuel production has resulted in huge increases in food prices for the very poorest people. An all round nightmare caused by misguided environmentalists.
That's why I stopped my monthly d/d to Greenpeace years ago.

Hi John,
Most of the palm oil growth is going to food and cosmetics / personal care - not biofuels. We're do not support palm oil being used for biofuels for the very reasons you cite. Palm oil as a component of biofuel in the UK is falling, not growing.
Here's what DEFRA said about palm oil usage in their in-depth study a few years ago (http://greenpalm.org/upload/fi... )
"The food industry is the largest consumer of palm oil globally. Estimates put global use around 80%, though USDA statistics indicate the proportion of palm oil used in the global food industry has declined from more than 86% to around 74% in the past decade (it is important to note however that actual use by volume almost doubled), with industrial uses (such as biofuels) increasingly taking a larger share."
And what they say about palm oil use for biofuels in the UK:
"Between April 2008 and April 2009, 127,008,760 L of PME was delivered to the UK market, equivalent to 129,548 mt of palm oil... In the following year, between April 2009 and April 2010, 99,106,066 L of PME was delivered to the UK market, down 22% from the previous year. This was equivalent to 101,088 mt of palm oil...
"Data is available for April 2010 – October 2010, which indicates that 31,142,298 L of PME (equivalent to 31,765 mt palm oil) has been delivered to the UK market over this time period...
"This decrease is likely due the price of palm oil and the availability of less expensive substitutes such as tallow and used cooking oil. Using used cooking oil (UCO) to produce biodiesel currently benefits from a 0.20p/L excise tax relief. Also, fuel companies have expressed concerns about the reputational risks of using palm oil for fuel."
You are probably right about the cause, but I don't want to rush in and lay blame until we have all the facts. We do know that the palm oil (and paper) companies laid the foundations by draining all the peatland for plantations.

John B: It is doubtful these fires are being caused by palm oil companies, and, secondly, the palm oil industry feeds food producers more than bio-fuel producers, so your argument needs a little work. (In the meantime, you should probably restart your d/d.)
These fires happen every year when the locals burn the ground to clear it or to remove the acidity for farming. Some of the fires are naturally occurring.
A number of the green NGOs are saying that the big companies cannot hide behind their no-burn policies. I think they can. They're not the culprits here. Watch what happens in June-August 2014. There will be fires again. The police have already arrested a handful of locals for starting these fires, but they're too slow to react. It's not as though they haven't had enough warning. These fires happen every year!
They're in the news this year because the wind is blowing the smoke at Singapore and Malaysia. To me, it looks like the greens are trying to spin this event into an opportunity to support their campaign, which is understandable...although not accurate.

A couple of years ago we had the shock-ads:


greenpeace - kitkat - Ask Nestlé CEO to stop buying palm oil from destroyed rainforest - YouTube

But now it appears that the Indonesian government is trying:

Indonesia Goes Green to the Dismay of Palm Oil Producers

May 30, 2013
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
To environmentalists, Indonesia is the home of developers who clear virgin rain forests, destroy the habitat of orangutans, and contribute to global climate change. But on May 13, Indonesia extended a policy of keeping virgin rain forest off-limits to the palm oil industry, a main driver of deforestation.
The first moratorium, imposed in 2011, had some enforcement problems. This time the government seems to be taking a new approach to green issues, and activists such as Glenn Hurowitz are unlikely fans. “There are now people at the highest levels of government who really believe the country can develop and protect its natural resources at the same time,” says Hurowitz, managing director of consultant Climate Advisers and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, a think tank. The change, he says, is “quite extraordinary.”
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono renewed the moratorium in part because of multinationals that don’t want to be linked to deforestation in Indonesia, the top producer of palm oil, which is used in cooking around the world. Companies such as NestlĂ©, Unilever (UL), and Cargill have pledged to stop using palm oil from trees planted on land that had been virgin rain forest. By 2015, even Girl Scout Cookies will use only palm oil certified as sustainable. The moratorium, says Indonesian Palm Oil Board Chairman Derom Bangun, “is good for improving our image.”

And an 'ethical' supermarket is doing its thing:

Palm oil
Leaves of a palm tree
Palm oil is an important and versatile raw material for both the food and non-food industries, accounting for more than 28m tonnes of the world's annual 95m tonnes of vegetable oil. However - as oil palm can only be cultivated in the tropical areas of Asia, Africa and South America - there are concerns that the soaring global demand is causing the expansion of some plantations into eco-sensitive areas.
In March 2006, Waitrose became a Member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - a global, multi-stakeholder forum set up to encourage the sustainable production and use of palm oil. As a member in the RSPO's Retailer category, Waitrose commits to the organisation's objectives and will actively contribute to the growth of sustainable palm oil through its practices and the implementation of relevant projects.
Waitrose does not sell any own-label palm oil and - because of its strict technical specifications and the importance it places on traceability - is aware of the small but growing number of own-brand products in which palm oil is used as an ingredient. Also, because of its concern about sustainability, a policy to govern its sourcing has been developed and guidelines for implementation in partnership with the oil producers who supply it are being developed. Waitrose are keen to see the industry develop robust and auditable traceability systems for commodity oils such as palm oil.
Waitrose are keen to see the industry develop robust and auditable traceability systems for commodity oils such as palm oil.

Also, because of its concern about sustainability, a policy to govern its sourcing has been developed and guidelines for implementation in partnership with the oil producers who supply it are being developed. We have joined the roundtable because we firmly believe that its work is essential if we are to be able to source sustainable palm oil in the future. Many media reports focus on how land conversion in areas like Indonesia is endangering species such as the orangutan. This is occurring because of the huge increase in the demand for palm oil, whether as a biofuel, or as a replacement for Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (HVO) used in foodstuffs. Waitrose has already taken significant steps to remove HVOs but we are conscious that if palm oil is to be used as a replacement, it must originate from sustainably certified plantations.
The Roundtable has brought about significant developments, for example, the agreement of international standards for sustainable palm oil production,. It is expected that a small number of plantations will produce the first batch of certified sustainable palm oil later this year. However, as an international traded commodity the industry needs to ensure appropriate systems are established to show the availability and traceability of certified palm oil before food producers and retailers can purchase it in any quantity.

Lastly, the RSPB is investing in sustainable forestry in the region:

The RSPB: Film: Save the Sumatran rainforest: sustainable communities
The Harapan Rainforest Initiative
Harapan - Harapan Rain Forest

Forest For Climate

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