With Nestle's new policy on palm oil, orangutans get a break

Posted at 05/18/10 2:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines - For Greenpeace International, it was a "sweet success."

Nestle, a company that uses palm oil in its products such as Kit Kat chocolate wafers, recently announced that it will stop purchasing palm oil from companies that own "high-risk" plantations and farms.

"Nestle wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint," Nestle said.

Nestle's move followed a 2-month Greenpeace campaign that exposed the company's use of palm oil products in Kit Kat.

The environmental group has noted that a number of palm oil plantations are driving the destruction of rainforests and peatlands, pushing endangered species such as orangutans to the brink of extinction.


A much-needed break. Greenpeace said orangutans get to stay in their rainforest homes longer, thanks to Nestle's move to buy palm oil only from sustainable sources. The food and beverage giant uses palm oil on Kit Kat chocolate wafers, among others. Credit: Greenpeace


"We are delighted that Nestle plans to give orangutans a break and we call on other international retailers, such as Carrefour and Wal-Mart, to do the same. Since the beginning of our campaign, hundreds of thousands of people have contacted Nestle to say that they will not buy products linked to rainforest destruction," said Pat Venditti, Greenpeace International Forest campaign head.

Under its new policy, Nestle said it will focus on the "systematic identification and exclusion" of palm oil companies owning or managing "high-risk" plantations or farms linked to deforestation.

The food and beverage giant has set the goal that by 2015, 100% of the palm oil it uses will come from "sustainable" sources, which Nestle defined as:

  • derived from plantations and farms operating in compliance with local laws and regulations
  • protective of high conservation value forest areas
  • supportive of the free prior and informed consent of indigenous and local communities
  • protective of peatlands
  • protective of forest areas of high carbon value

"Nestle's move sends a clear message to Sinar Mas and the rest of the palm oil and paper industries that rainforest destruction is not acceptable in the global marketplace," Venditti said.

The Sinar Mas Group, a huge palm oil and paper supplier, has long been accused by Greenpeace as a "destroyer of peatlands and rainforests." Venditti said Nestle's new policy, if properly implemented, may take a toll on the Indonesian firm's profits.

"They [Sinar Mas] need to clean up their act and move on to implement a moratorium on rainforest destruction and full peatland protection," she said.

A closer look at palm oil

Not all people know of palm oil despite its presence in most food and non-food items that people use each day.

"Palm oil: Good Fat, Bad Fat," a special documentary by the Asian Food Channel (AFC), showed that one out of 10 products in a supermarket contains palm oil.

Some of the items that contain palm oil include chocolate, toothpaste and cosmetics.

Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the oil palm Elais guineensis. The crop is grown mostly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa.

The American Palm Oil Council has said that palm oil has numerous health benefits. The group said palm oil is rich in antioxidants and promotes a healthy cardiovascular health, among others. Being a vegetable oil, palm oil does not contain cholesterol.

Despite this, however, palm oil continues to be under scrutiny in relation to its harmful effects on the environment.

The increased production of palm plantations has led to deforestation in many tropical areas, causing higher greenhouse gas emissions.

The continued expansion of palm plantations has also caused the habitat destruction of endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan, among others.