PALM OIL AND THE RAIN FOREST

PALM OIL

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palm oil
Palm oil, extracted from the fruit of oil palm trees, is a low-cost vegetable oil with a long shelf life, and is almost solid at room temperature, characteristics that suit its use in processed foods like cereal, bread, biscuits, candy, potato chips and margarine. It is also an ingredient in soaps, cosmetics, detergents and household cleaners and is a popular cooking oil.

Native to West Guinea in Africa, the oil palm tree produces a nut or kernel that is pressed to produce palm-kernel oil. The endosperm---the pulp around the kernel of the mahogany-red fruit that hangs below the palm fronds like bananas--- produces oil which is used in making a number of foods. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are the world’s largest palm oil producers. The oil palm tree was introduced to Malaysia in 1870, with commercial production beginning in 1917.Many tropical rain forests have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantation which are comprised of endless rows of palm oil trees. On the largest palm oil plantations the fruit is moved to the processing plants by light railways that run along dirt roads that run across the plantations.

Palm oil is found in mayonnaise, ice cream, French fries, noodles, oleochemicals, Palmolive soap and biofuels and someday may be used to make plastics and paint. Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Long a preferred cooking ingredient in developing countries, palm oil is now in greater demand in Western markets because of its low price and long shelf life..It can be found in more than half of all the products sold in U.S. supermarkets, including cookies and cosmetics. And its use is increasing as the commercial food industry phases out trans fats to meet government-mandated labeling requirements. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, November 26, 2012]

Palm oil is more profitable than rubber, generally selling for more per ton on the world market. Oil palms produce 3.7 tons of oil per hectare per year, compared to 0.6 tons for rapeseed, 0.5 tons for sunflower and 0.4 tons for soybeans. Palm oil competes with soy oil for dominance in the edible oil category. Palm oil is the world's second best selling vegetable oil (16 percent of the world's output) after soy bean oil (20 percent). The prices of palm oil rise and fall with the demand for edible oils. The average price per ton for palm oil was:$780 in 2007 and $949 in 2008.

According to one study palm oil performed as well as olive on tests that measured LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels in the blood. The study showed that palm oil does not raise baseline cholesterol levels, but does reduce bad LDL levels and raise good HDL levels. The vitamin E in palm oil behaves as an anti-oxidant and palm oil inhibits tumor growth compared to other polyunsaturated oils. According to the Nutrition Advisory Committee of Europe palm oil is unfairly grouped with other "high-fat" tropical oils and "should be clearly distinguished from palm kernel oil and coconut oil because it has a lower level of saturated components and contains an equal proportion of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids."

See Separate Article on PALM OIL AND MALAYSIA factsanddetails.com .

Websites and Resources: Sunpalms sunpalmtrees.com ; Palm Trees palm-trees.org ; Wikipedia article on palms Wikipedia ; Palmpedia palmpedia.net ; Greenpeace on Palm Oil greenpeace.org ; Wikipedia article on palm oil Wikipedia ; Malaysian Palm Oil Board mpob.gov.my/ ; Palm Oil Processing fao.org/DOCREP ;

Palm Oil Producers

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palm oil fruit
Malaysia is the world's biggest palm oil producer, and its companies are also big players in neighboring Indonesia, another major producer of the edible oil. In 2002, Malaysia produced 50 percent of world palm oil, with Indonesia producing 30 percent. But Indonesia is fast catching up. According to The Times in 2009 Indonesia had 4,545,000 hectares of palms compared to 3,741,000 in Malaysia. Global production of palm oil doubled from 1996 to 2006 to 23 million tons per year, with over 10 million hectares now under plantation. Plantations of oil palm are expected to grow by 43 percent by 2025.

Top palm-oil producing Countries: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons in 2008, FAO): 1) Malaysia, 5369279 , 17734441; 2) Indonesia, 5116644 , 16900000; 3) Nigeria, 402670 , 1330000; 4) Thailand, 393588 , 1300000; 5) Colombia, 235486 , 777800; 6) Papua New Guinea, 115654 , 382000; 7) Ecuador, 93552 , 309000; 8) Côte d'Ivoire, 87800 , 290000; 9) Honduras, 82774 , 273400; 10) China, 68121 , 225000; 11) Brazil, 66607 , 220000; 12) Costa Rica, 58802 , 194220; 13) Cameroon, 56010 , 185000; 13) Guatemala, 56010 , 185000; 15) Democratic Republic of the Congo, 55102 , 182000; 16) Ghana, 38753 , 128000; 17) Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), 27066 , 89400; 18) Philippines, 24826 , 82000; 19) Mexico, 18771 , 62000; 20) Guinea, 15138 , 50000.

Indonesia has been the world’s largest oil palm fruit producer. In 2011, the export value of Indonesia’s oil palm products and derivatives reached $11.61 billion, up 17.75 percent, or $2.5 billion from 2010. The export value in the coming years is expected to keep growing in line with the government target of 27 million tons of oil palm fruit production in 2015.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand produce three quarters of the world's palm oil as well as three quarters of the world's rubber and large percentage of the coffee and cocoa crops. These crops were hit hard by the 1997 El Niño and their prices rose significantly.

Palms

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Palm oil production in
Jukwa Village Ghana
Next to grains and other grasses, palms are regarded as the most useful of all plants. They yield coconuts, palm oil, sugar, dates and materials that are used to make houses, boats, baskets, furniture and other things.

Some palms yield palm hearts, the tender, inner section or buds of the baby palm tree. Each palm tree has a single bud in the heart of the crown of the leaves that heart that can only be harvested if the palm is cut down. These buds are delicacies in Argentina and used in a curies and salads (sometimes called "millionaire's salads" because of the expense incurred by cutting down the tree). In some places it is called "cabbage" and is used as a salad vegetable. In other places it is pickled.

Palms grow primarily in tropical areas but are also found in the highlands of the Himalayas and the Andes, in mangrove swamps and in the desert. Members of a diverse plant group that also includes grasses and orchids, they range in height from six inches to 200 feet. Some palms are trees. Some are bushes. Rattan palms, which grow as a vine, can reach lengths of 600 feet or more.

Palm trees do not branch. They generate all their growth from a huge bud at the apex of the tree, which is called the palm heart. It produces leaf after leaf as the plant grows. The palm heart is often very tasty and animals like to eat it. If something happens to it the plant can die. Many palms have sharp spines for protection.

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Palm oil palm in Malaysia
Palm trunk have a pith center but no bark or growth rings. Leaves called fonds fan out from a crown at the top. Some leaves are 30 to 45 feet long and 4 to 8 feet wide. African raffia palms have the world’s largest leaves, reaching 75 feet in length.

Palms bear flowers and fruit. The fruits have hard kernels containing tiny germs. Some kernels, such as dates, are surrounded by a fleshy pulp. The world’s largest seed, a double coconut from the Seychelles, comes from a palm. Most palms begin flowering when they five or six and mature when they are 10 to 15 years old. Some palms live 150 years or more.

PC is a disease that has devastated African oil palms in Columbia. PC stands for the Spanish words for “bud rot.” The disease is caused by a microorganism called phytophthora that attacks the soft growth matrix of the palm and this in turn attracts insects called palm weevils that bore into the tree, killing it. In recent years the PC microorganism has mutated into strains that spread much faster than before and can not be controlled by conventional means.

Palm Oil Cultivation and Processing

The palm oil comes from a mahogany-red fruit that hangs in oven-size bunches below the palm fronds like bananas. On the largest palm oil plantations the fruit is moved to the processing plants by light railways that run on dirt roads that run across the plantations. Otherwise much of fruit is carried in huge piles in overloaded, teetering trucks.

Germinated seeds are planted and the seedlings spend about a year in the nursery before being transferred to the fields. Here, the young palms are planted about nine metres apart resulting in 128 to 140 trees per hectare. [Source: Wilmar]

Oil palms generally begin to produce fruits 30 months after being planted in the fields with commercial harvest commencing six months later. However, the yield of an oil palm is relatively low at this stage. As the oil palm continues to mature, its yield increases and it reaches peak production in years seven to 18. Yield starts to gradually decrease after 18 years. The typical commercial lifespan of an oil palm is approximately 25 years.

Fully mature oil palms produce 18 to 30 metric tonnes of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) per hectare. The yield depends on a variety of factors, including age, seed quality, soil and climatic conditions, quality of plantation management and the timely harvesting and processing of FFB. The ripeness of FFB harvested is critical in maximising the quality and quantity of palm oil extracted. Harvested fruits must be processed within 24 hours to minimise the build-up of fatty acids.

Milling of FFB takes place within 24 hours from the harvesting of FFB. FFB are first transferred to the palm oil mills for sterilisation by applying high-pressure steam, whereupon the palm fruits are enzyme-deactivated and separated from the palm bunches. After steaming, the palm fruitlets are crushed in a pressing machine to obtain crude palm oil (CPO) and palm kernel. Waste and water is then cleared and separated from the CPO by means of a centrifuge. The cleared crude palm oil emerging from the centrifuge is then sent for refining while the palm kernel nut is sent for crushing. The empty fruit bunches and liquid waste arising from the process are recycled as fertiliser in the plantations.

Palm Oil's Versatility and Saturation

Deborah Gough wrote in The Age, “It's everywhere - in your bathroom, your pantry - and if you use make-up, it's probably on your face as well. According to a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and the Food and Grocery Council of Australia, Australians consume an average of about six kilograms of palm oil a year, in products as diverse as bread, shampoo and cosmetics. Consumer group Choice says palm oil is ecologically damaging, very high in saturated fats and should be specifically labelled so shoppers can choose to avoid it. Choice said about 50 percent of packaged products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil, yet Food Standards Australia and New Zealand allowed it to be labelled as vegetable oil. It said palm oil was widespread and found in potato chips, shampoo, muesli bars and many other products, but shoppers could not tell by looking at the labels.[Source: Deborah Gough, The Age, May 21, 2013]

Choice claims palm oil is the most-eaten oil in the world, accounting for 33 percent of total oil production in 2009. It is cheap, versatile, grows quickly and keeps products on the shelf for longer. Australia imports 130,000 tonnes of palm oil a year. Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said its saturated fat content was 51 percent, which was much higher than other vegetable oils, such as canola, sunflower and olive oil. "For a product with such high levels of saturated fat, we think it is important to clearly and specifically label, rather than leave it up to the consumer to decipher fat levels on the nutritional panel,” Mr Godfrey said. It named Arnott's, Coca-Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder and Nestle, as all using palm oil but labelling it as vegetable oil. It said Aldi's private-label goods called palm oil "vegetable oil", but Coles' and Woolworths' labelled goods both specifically identified it.

It also criticised the use of palm oil in products for children. Choice highlighted Woolworths' recent release of organic Mini Macro products sold in its health-food aisles, that contained palm oil. It said Woolworths claimed palm oil "tastes better" and is more widely available than organic oils. Choice also said Aldi used palm oil in products for children, including potato chips, which it recommended as a part of its balanced lunch box campaign.

Choice tips for identifying palm oil: 1) Check the nutritional panel for the proportions of saturated to unsaturated fats. 2) Note high saturated fat content where vegetable oil is listed means the product probably contains palm oil. 3) Be aware that when buying processed products there is a chance it may contain palm oil.

Palm Oil as a Measure of the Global Markets

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “For years, economists, along with everyone else, thought of palm oil as exactly what it looked like: a pinkish, sludgy irrelevance. People knew that it was used to make food and soap but everything else about it, including its origins, seemed slightly distasteful. In 2009 palm oil has not changed its colour or texture, but as an economic indicator it is unrecognisable. In a world of food and energy crises, of credit implosions, green politics and the rise of Asia, it has become the gauge that straddles them all — the ultimate global speedometer. [Source: Leo Lewis. The Times, August 15, 2009 ^^]

“Through its price fluctuations and ever-changing trade destinations, palm oil has become an accurate measurement of hundreds of global markets. Its versatility is the key, which is the main reason why the world consumes 42 million tonnes a year — twice as much as it did a decade ago. For all of the criticism that palm oil plantations attract for destroying the rainforest and endangering wildlife, the demand is a reading of a global population trying to feed and power itself under challenging circumstances. ^^

“The growth of palm oil has tracked the rising wealth of the middle classes in China and India, which buy up a quarter of all global supplies every year. Those who can afford to fry more of their food, and when other edible oil stocks can not keep up, or when prices rise too far, palm oil becomes the alternative. As a biofuel feedstock, palm oil can meet a similar demand with energy, offering an alternative strategy when the markets are knocked out of kilter. ^^

“Palm prices tell us how rich the average Chinese family feels at new year, and with what sort of food the Muslim world will be breaking the fast each night of Ramadan. It tells us where London brokers think crude oil prices are heading and what Chicago futures traders think of this year’s soya bean crop and how badly El Niño is hurting South-East Asia this cycle. ^^

“In Malaysia and Indonesia, which between them meet about 87 percent of the global demand, palm oil price movements dictate government policy, shape economic prospects and draw billions of dollars of direct investment. For Malaysia, palm oil competes with tourism and manufacturing as the three biggest sources of economic growth. A couple of years ago, a bumper haul and dazzling prices allowed the Government in Kuala Lumpur to give a bonus to every civil servant in the country. In Indonesia palm oil plays an even more central role in the country’s economic future. One popular view is that Indonesia belongs in three of the world’s most promising and exciting, emerging markets. The theory is backed by the idea that an industry that already employs two million people has the scope to double its output by 2014. ^^

“Perhaps most critically of all, palm oil is the canary in the mine for biofuel policy-making around the world. Setting stomachs and cars against each other in direct competition for calories is a finely balanced game, more likely to go wrong than right. A poorly calculated subsidy in one country can cause dangerous price rises in a food commodity on another continent. In almost all cases, the price of palm oil is where the folly emerged. ^^

Palm Oil Marketing and Sales

An aggressive campaign to increase palm oil production was launched in the 1960s to reduce Malaysia's dependency on tin and rubber. Thousands of square miles of virgin rain forest have been cut down since then to make way for palm oil plantations.

The prices palm oil are quoted in dollars. Palm oil became very profitable in Malaysia and Indonesia as the value of the currencies there t crashed after the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98.

Palm oil is being developed to use is as an automobile fuel. The idea was proposed by a farmers as a solution for the problem of declining demand for palm oil caused by health concerns.

At one time India was the biggest buyer of Malaysian palm oil. It imported 4 million to 5 million tons a year. Most of its was used for cooking oil. China is now a major buyer. Edible oils are a main ingredient in instant noodles.

Deforestation and Problems with Palm Oil

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Much of the world’s palm oil is produced on land formally occupied by rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia. Much of the destruction is in Indonesia, where the United Nations Environment Program warned in 2007 that 98 percent of the forests in Sumatra and Borneo could be gone by 2022. In neighboring Malaysia, which is also a major palm oil producer, much of the low-lying forest has already vanished.

Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “The huge global appetite is yielding billions in revenue for Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s first- and second-largest producers of palm oil. But environmental and human rights activists warn that the boom is doing irreparable damage to rare biodiversity and accelerating the effects of global warming, with no concern for long-term social costs. They add that indigenous people are being pushed off their ancestral land to make way for plantations staffed by tens of thousands of migrant workers, who are often denied health care and education services. Many families that have labored for decades still do not have the legal documents that would grant them and their children basic rights. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, November 26, 2012]

Environmentalists complain that clearing trees for palm oil plantations threatens the rain forest and animals like elephants, orangutans and tigers. Only 14 percent of palm oil produced is sustainable, Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey says, resulting in deforestation and catastrophic environmental damage. Palm oil production has been linked to the destruction of orangutan habitats. People in the palm industry argue that only a few errant growers cause environmental damage.

Palm Oil Producers and Efforts to Reduce Rainforest Deforestation

Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “In response to mounting pressure, leading palm oil producers have partnered with advocacy groups to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an association based in Zurich that aims to establish clear social and environmental safeguards for the industry. Top consumer goods companies, such as Unilever and Nestle, are members, as well as agribusiness giant Cargill, the largest importer of palm oil to the United States. But activists say there has been more talk than serious reform.[Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, November 26, 2012]

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palm wine
The New York Times reported, “Companies that produce and use palm oil, including household names like Kellogg and Johnson & Johnson, joined governments and environmental groups in 2003 to create the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an effort to reduce the sector’s ecological effects. But many environmentalists say the panel merely provides green cover to industry. They were particularly critical of its decision last year to exclude greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether to certify oil as sustainable. [Source: New York Times, June 3, 2010]

Participating companies, particularly Indonesian growers, were reluctant to create a standard they could meet only by slowing forest clearance, and pressured the board to omit it, said Adam Harrison, who represents the conservation group WWF at the roundtable. Members agreed instead to develop a voluntary program for growers to measure the greenhouse gases generated by their plantations.

The industry says this was at least a step forward. “It was widely accepted that the development of plantations in the palm oil sector” caused emissions, said Marc den Hartog, a member of the roundtable’s board and an executive at IOI Group, a Malaysian palm oil company. There would be more progress, he said, “despite the fact that for many people it won’t go fast enough.” In the first year after it began certifying palm oil in 2009, the roundtable certified about two million tons as sustainable, in an industry that produces more than 45 million tons a year. Meeting certification requirements can add as much as $100 a ton to the price of a commodity that generally runs around $600 a ton, Mr. den Hartog said.

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Palm oil from Ghana
But campaigners say that certifying palm oil just shifts the problem. Growers use long-cleared land for sustainable oil while destroying forest to create plantations catering to less choosy consumers. The industry’s structure makes it difficult to influence, said Mr. Harrison, of WWF. While some big growers, processors and lenders produce and bankroll palm oil, “there are thousands of smaller companies, especially in Indonesia, one-off units that are much more difficult for us to get leverage over.”

Worse still, Indonesia’s government and local authorities often require companies holding land concessions to destroy all rainforest in their permit area, once it has been officially designated for development, Mr. Harrison said. That is contrary to roundtable guidelines encouraging the setting aside of zones for wildlife habitat, he said. “It becomes very difficult for a company that wants to be responsible to be responsible,” he said.

As awareness of deforestation grows, consumer pressure has prompted many companies to promise to use palm oil from sustainable sources only. Unilever, a huge user of palm oil in products like Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, has promised that by 2015 it will buy only from plantations certified as sustainable. Nestlé, singled out by Greenpeace in an aggressive online campaign, recently made a similar pledge. The roundtable met last year with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in an effort to promote the use of the sustainable product in that country, which is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, said Mr. den Hartog, of IOI Group.

Palm Oil and Biofuel

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Palm oil factory in Cote d'Ivoire
There are two types of biofuel bioethanol which is produced from carbohydrate-based plants namely sugarcane, corn, beet, wheet and sorgum while biodiesel is made from vegetable oilseeds such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybean and palm oil. Biofuel can be derived from dozens of crops but many fuel companies choose palm oil because it can be cheaper than the more sustainable alternatives such as rapeseed.

According to the New York Times palm oil "is quickly gaining use as a diesel fuel substitute, particularly in Europe, where demand is being driven by a European Union goal requiring that 10 percent of all transportation fuel should come from renewable sources by 2020. While the Union requires that such fuels must generate fewer emissions than conventional sources, it fails to take sufficient account of rainforest clearance, making the standard meaningless, the advocates say." [Source: New York Times, June 3, 2010]

Ben Webster wrote in The Times,“In 2008, British motorists used 27 million litres of palm oil from Indonesia and 64 million litres from Malaysia, according to the Renewable Fuels Agency, the government-funded watchdog that monitors biofuel supplies. Fuel companies also supplied 32 million litres of palm oil from “unknown’ countries. The agency knows which companies are using palm oil but is refusing to name them on the ground that the information is commercially sensitive. [Source: Ben Webster, The Times, August 15, 2009 **]

Palm Oil Biofuel and Deforestation

Ben Webster wrote in The Times, “Vast tracts of rainforest are destroyed each year by companies seeking to take advantage of the world’s growing appetite for plant-based alternatives to fossil fuel. In theory, greenhouse gas emissions from burning biofuel are lower than those from fossil fuel because crops absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. But clearing rainforest to create biofuel plantations releases vast quantities of carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up the carbon emitted when rainforest is burnt to plant the crop. [Source: Ben Webster, The Times, August 15, 2009 **]

“Deforestation, mainly in the tropics, accounts for almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned the country into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia has the fastest rate of deforestation, losing an area the size of Wales every year. The expansion of plantations has pushed the orangutan to the brink of extinction in Sumatra. **

The New York Times reported in June 2010, “Palm oil is driving the destruction of some of Southeast Asia’s last tracts of untouched rainforest and leading to huge emissions of gases that spur global warming. Biofuel goals meant to fight climate change are worsening the problem by giving growers an even greater incentive to destroy virgin forests and peatlands that serve as huge carbon sinks, environment advocates say. The forests provide livelihoods to indigenous people and are the only home to endangered species like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger. [Source: New York Times, June 3, 2010]

Global demand for biofuels has created “a very rapid increase in palm oil plantations, really a huge increase,” Alex Kaat, a spokesman for Wetlands International, an advocacy group based in the Netherlands, told the New York Times. “Deforestation and palm oil go hand in hand. It’s definitely a very, very dirty fuel.” [Ibid]

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palm oil producers

Palm oil’s use for fuel, particularly in Europe, is now driving the industry’s expansion, Kenneth Richter, a biofuels campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told the New York Times. Nusa Urbancic, of the advocacy group Transport & Environment in Brussels, said that while figures showed that palm oil offered carbon savings of 56 percent over fossil fuels, they did not take into account the deforestation driven by its production. [Ibid]

Much of the forest now being cleared for palm oil is peatland, with marshy soils that are crucial holders of methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. Environmentalists argue that abandoned grasslands could be used for palm cultivation, but the industry’s hunger for enormous plantations to create economies of scale, and its close links with timber extraction, create relentless pressure for forest clearance, Mr. Kaat told the New York Times. Logging companies, often affiliated with palm oil companies, generally begin by removing valuable hardwood trees, and then drain swamps and burn vegetation, releasing enormous volumes of greenhouse gases, he said. [Ibid]

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palm plantation in Cigudeg, Indonesia

Big Oil Companies, Bioefuels, Palm Oil and Rainforest Deforestation

Ben Webster wrote in The Times, “Fuel companies are accelerating the destruction of rainforest by secretly adding palm oil to diesel. Twelve oil companies supplied a total of 123 million litres of palm oil to filling stations in the year to April, according to official figures obtained by The Times. Only 15 percent of the palm oil came from plantations that met any kind of environmental standard. Much of the rest came from land previously occupied by rainforest. [Source: Ben Webster, The Times, August 15, 2009 **]

“Under a European Union initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 3.25 percent of the total amount of fuel sold by each oil company must be biofuel. The proportion is due to rise to 13 percent by 2020. In practice most companies meet the obligation by adding biofuel to diesel, creating a blend that contains about 5 percent biofuel. The companies are not obliged to inform motorists that the petrol or diesel they buy contains biofuel. **

“Several leading fuel industry figures sit on the agency’s board, including a director of the oil company BP and a senior executive from the coalmining group Anglo American. The agency said that the directors had not been involved in the decision to withhold the names of the companies. It is almost inevitable that we will use palm oil because the amount of biofuel we will need is increasing. Palms deliver one of the highest volumes of oil per hectare of any crop. That means we can use less land to produce the same amount of oil. **

Ian Duff, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace, said: “It cannot be right that the watchdog on biofuels has oil company directors on its board. The agency is preventing the public from discovering which of these companies are selling us palm oil, one of the cheapest and most environmentally damaging biofuels.” Several major oil companies are exploiting a loophole in the agency’s reporting system to avoid declaring what type of land has been used to grow their biofuel. They are obliged to submit a sustainability report but in the section on the previous use of the land are allowed to say ‘unknown’. When calculating the greenhouse gas savings from biofuel the agency ignores the previous use of the land. **

“Esso said that it did not know the previous use of the land on which 95 percent of its biofuel was grown. It also refused to say whether it had used any palm oil. A spokesman said: “Our approach to supplying biofuels must balance sustainability, fuel-product quality and the need to remain competitive in the marketplace.” BP said that its biofuel included palm oil but claimed that it all came from certified plantations. It failed to declare the previous use of the land for 79 percent of its biofuel. **

“Total refused to say whether it used any palm oil. Murco admitted using palm oil but did not respond to questions about its origins. Total, Chevron and Murco all failed to declare the previous use of the land that was the source of more than half their biofuel. Chevron admitted using palm oil from uncertified sources. A spokesman said: “As sustainable palm oil certification systems become commercially operational, Chevron will progress towards sourcing, supplying and trading only certified palm oil.” **

“Shell had the best record of the major companies for declaring the sources of its biofuel. It said that it did not use any palm oil last year because it could not find any from a sustainable source. Luis Scoffone, vice-president for biofuels, said that Shell could have met its biofuel obligation more cheaply if it had bought palm oil. “There is a premium for sustainability that we are incurring,” he said. Shell was likely to use palm oil in the future but only when it could be certain that it was not damaging rainforests.

Image Source: Mongabay mongabay.com ; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior by David Attenborough (Princeton University Press, 1997); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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