Help a Sister and the World Out?

Singapore is breathing a HUGE sigh of relief as the first rain in months arrived recently and for the first time in weeks, the air tasted a bit clean. While the recent haze in Singapore is nowhere near as bad as the filth that swamped us last year (see below a series of pictures from my office of MBS in June 2013) it’s arrived much earlier than normal, and once again the people living in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore suffer – with those living in Sumatra and Borneo- especially the poor – suffering much much more in poorly insulated dwellings.

The view of MBS from my office in June 2013 – expected to be worse this year
So what’s changed since last year? From what I can see, not much. Oil palm expansion is on the rise as is its market price, soy and palm oil production is expected to rise (both destroy the environment), and if we keep going with use expected to double by 2020, well the Orangutans don’t stand a chance and none of us will be able to breathe.

I often ask myself would I care so much if I wasn’t impacted? Well I hope so, but the truth is, most of us don’t do anything unless it’s a real and present danger to ourselves. I get that it’s hard to understand something is important when it’s happening so far away, and often outside of the media glare. But this issue (along with many others) is critical for all of us – seriously. Equally, the work that is being done by an amazing and dedicated group of people who are giving their hearts to make a difference, needs to become mainstream. You and I need to act. We can’t turn a blind eye and continue living our lives, enjoying our commodities without thought. Orangutans could be gone in five years. The Sumatran tigers in three. The quality of air we breathe? Who knows, but it’s at risk to. We can reverse this. We still have time.

When the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct last year, my great mate Willie said “we’re all responsible for that.” And you know what, she’s right, we are. I don’t know if my writing a single blog will help much, but in this case, it’s all about momentum and education to ensure the products you are buying come from sustainable palm oil companies.

And all we need to do – at a minimum – is be more conscious of what goes in our grocery trolley. We can do a lot more, we can write to the companies using palm oil, we can swamp their social media pages and ask them to change, but if everyone shopped more consciously, what a start!

My boys and Aunty Vick in June 2013
Never imagined I’d live in a place where masks were necessary
If you don’t keep reading – because it’s a longie – I want you to take four points away from this blog:

  1. The Sumatran tiger will be extinct within three years if palm oil production continues at its current rate
  2. The Orangutans will be extinct in 5-10 years
  3. The countries using products with palm oil most extensively are America, Australia, New Zealand, England and Europe – so it is the developed world creating this havoc and it is us that needs to change
  4. To change this trend we need to buy products with no palm oil or sustainably produced palm oil. Currently, more than 50% of our supermarket shopping has palm oil in it – we can change this by paying attention and making different buying decision

OK got that? We can change this. It’s up to us. We cannot mourn the loss of two magnificent creates and say there was nothing we could do. We have the power to make a difference. Let’s do it OK?

Where do you find palm oil?

Shampoo, ice cream, cleaning products, margarine, baking products, biscuits, and make up. Check out this link for a list of palm oil products – with some in the image below. Are they sourcing palm oil sustainably? That’s what we’ve got to find out. It takes a bit of effort, but that’s what’s required now. I’m bummed to see Dove Soap in there – my definite preferred soap and a brand that represents something good in the world – please Dove, I want you working with me here. To keep using Dove soap, I will now check out their sustainability practice and if they’re not playing nice, I must act. I must. Anyone else with me? And any other favorite products jump out at you?

I know this is an Australian site and this is a global issue, but there are many global brands on this list, so if it’s in Australia, it’s certainly going to be in the products it produces elsewhere.

The big brands, like Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble and Kellogs are using palm oil. If it’s not sustainably harvested, we need to make them accountable. The one company that REALLY surprised me though is Ben & Jerry’s – come on guys, you guys are awesome. You can do better than that. Also another little gripe. I was in one of your Singapore stores recently and before you always offered customers free water. Now we have to buy it – which means more plastic bottles in the world. Not happy Ben & Jerrys.

Then there is Harmony products, Balance Bars, chips/crisps/biscuits of many brands (including Tim Tams hello Arnots!!), Girl Scout Cookies (!?!), McDonalds (hardly a surprise), Jewel cookies, Milk (which often contains Vitamin A Palmitate), many Soy Milks, Mrs. Fields (booh!), Pepperidge Farm (booh!), Quaker, Sweet ‘n’ Low (it’s got aspartame too), Avon products, Clinique products, Cover Girl, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena, Mary Kay, Revlon and many other beauty products that also have “healthy” looking names, including organic in the title. Well how can it be organic?

I am astonished by the number of baby products with palm oil, and when you feel like baking, how about trying a recipe from scratch rather than a packet? The pre-prepared baking goods sector is a big user. If your family enjoys its biscuits, please check out this list and make a choice from the right hand column. There are plenty of options that don’t use palm oil, so why not make a difference? Breads and cakes you buy in the supermarket already contain bad additives (like 282 which we should all avoid) and palm oil is a common ingredient. Support your local bakery and do yourself a MASSIVE favor to boot, while also helping the environment.

Candles are a big palm oil culprit, as are Kellogs cereals. Check your Feta cheese label, and with chocolates, guilty parties include Belgian Sea Shells, Cadbury choc with fillings (including Roses, sorry Steve), some Hersheys, some Lindt and Mars Bars. In fact, with Easter coming up, a good time to buy palm oil free or sustainable palm oil products huh?

Cleaning products are extensive, with the big global brands using unsustainably produced palm oil – think Ajax, Domestos, Duck, Febreeze, Jif, Mr. Muscle and Febreeze. There are many more. I was SO relieved to see my deodorant of choice – Rexona – on the non-palm oil list (that would have been a tough one to change) but Dove, Nivea, Lynx (sorry again Steve) and Impulse are all there! Dishwashing liquid is a BIG palm oil user and that is something we’ve changed at home – an easy one to do right?

Please, I beg you, check them all out. Frozen foods and shampoos. Fast food and gluten free food. Packaged drinks, packet soups, ice cream, snack bars, health foods, soap, sweets, margarine (better to use butter anyway), pet food, ready-made meals, and on and on and on.

A strategy to not be overwhelmed

I know these lists can be overwhelming, but here’s something I did. As Lex was having so many challenges around his hearing issues, which lead to behavioral issues, and a lot of crap, I decided to go hard on making sure there was VERY little preservatives in the food we bought. Even though I prefer to avoid the boys eating additives and preservatives, and many of Lex’s issues have gone, I still continue to restrict – as much as I can – with what the boys eat. This is good for me as well, because I have a really shit time on the stuff too.

Anyhoo, to do this and not be overwhelmed, when I was at the supermarket, I used to tackle one thing at a time. Avoiding 282 – check. Avoiding aspartame – check. Avoiding MSG – check. Etc… I’d research each chemical, including all of its different names, and make sure that nothing in the trolley had it in it. That’s how I did it, otherwise I’d get overwhelmed. Give that a go if you want to make it easier – one product group at a time.

Image from
Deciphering food labels

As we know, sometimes other words are used to label products. It’s not easy for any of us to remember these, but in the case of palm oil, print off the list below, put it in your wallet and next time you’re shopping, cross-check with it. Although I had a very weird moment with food labelling recently.

I was with my pals Anna, Brett and Jen in Melbourne. We were checking the ingredients on a packet of cereal (making sure there was no caramel flavoring – terrible stuff) and I looked first. It was so small my eyes went haywire, which I put down to my deteriorating eye sight – old age you know. However, the other guys had a look and had the same experience. It was weird – like the letters jumped out and instantly became hazy. So now I must ask the question – are we also dealing with labels being printed in a font that spins our eyes out? I mean most people wouldn’t bother continuing to look because it was VERY uncomfortable when you did. Anyone else aware of this?

Moving on.

Anyhoo this is palm oil
  • Cetyl Palmitate and Octyl Palmitate
  • Elaeis Guineensis (Taxonomic name for palm oil)
  • Hexadecylic or Palmitic Acid
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Palm Oil Kernal
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • A good tip – anything with Palmitate at the end

Other potentials
  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Emulsifier 422, 430-36, 470-8, 481-483, 493-5
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates
  • Steareth – 2 & Steareth – 20
  • Stearic Acid Vegetable Oil

Thank you to Orangutan Conservatory for providing this list. You can also check out this link for other names for palm oil – a common labelling trick!

If you’re interested, the Facebook page Palm Oil Products in Australia is sharing great information and deserves the support. There is also Buy Palm Oil Free, and the Palm Oil Project– let’s show ‘em some love huh?

Here’s some facts from the WWF:
  1. Oil palms produce more per hectare of land than any other oil-producing crop
  2. Palm oil has surpassed soy oil as the world’s most popular vegetable oil
  3. Palm oil is used in about 50% of all packaged food products in supermarkets today
  4. Palm oil is used in a wide range of foods (e.g. margarine, ice cream) and non-food products (e.g. shampoo, soap, cosmetics) to make them more creamy

This blog is getting VERY long, so I’m going to sign off now and ask you to do me a favour. Don’t turn a blind eye here. Don’t be apathetic. This is super important for all of us and it’s easy for us to make a difference. Maybe we couldn’t see a way where we could save the Western Black Rhino, but the answer to this challenge is simple – don’t buy the products. 

Yes I know some local farmers/villagers will suffer. I know that. But this is a much bigger issue for our world, and we need to make sure that both the orangutans and the Sumatran tigers (as well as numerous other animals and habitats) survive and thrive. I certainly want my boys to see them in the wild rather than the zoo – you too?

We can only succeed if we act now. Don’t buy the stuff at a minimum, do more if you’re inclined. Share this if you like it. Or write something yourself if you’ve got more to say. But let’s get the word out and get the conversation bigger and the action strong.

I’m in, are you?

Yours, without the bollocks

Let’s save these little beauties together huh?
See below some other facts from the site – Say no to palm oil  – this will really help you understand the issues. According to its site, here’s some of the bad shit going down around a product we’re all consuming without thought:
  1. The palm oil industry is linked to major issues, including deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced
  2. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hourto make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction
  3. If nothing changes the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years
  4. The Sumatran tigers have less than three years
  5. 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England
  6. A third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered as a consequence of this unsustainable development that is rapidly encroaching on their habitat
  7. More than 90% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years, and as such, is considered “a conservation emergency” by the UN. An estimated 1000-5000 orangutans are killed each year for this development
  8. The orangutan is a keystone species and plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem. An example of this being the spread of rainforest seeds in Indonesia, many of which can only germinate once passed through the gut of an orangutan, hence this primate is essential for the existence of the forest
  9. Deforestation for palm oil production also contributes significantly to climate change
  10. There are over 300,000 different animals found throughout the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra, many of which are injured, killed and displaced during deforestation
  11. Palm oil development increases accessibility of animals to poachers and wildlife smugglers who capture and sell wildlife as pets, use them for medicinal purposes or kill them for their body parts. The destruction of rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra is therefore not only a conservation emergency, but a major animal welfare crisis as well
  12. Wildlife such as orangutans have been found buried alive, killed from machete attacks, guns and other weaponry. Government data has shown that over 50,000 orangutans have already died as a result of deforestation due to palm oil in the last two decades. This either occurs during the deforestation process, or after the animal enters a village or existing palm oil plantation in search of food. Mother orangutans are also often killed by poachers and have their babies taken to be sold or kept as pets, or used for entertainment in wildlife tourism parks in countries such as Thailand and Bali.
  13. Other megafauna that suffer as a result of this development include species like the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sun Bear, Pygmy Elephant, Clouded Leopard and Proboscis Monkey. Road networks that are constructed to allow palm oil plantation workers and equipment access to the forest also increase accessibility of these areas to poachers that are looking for these kinds of valuable animals.
  14. The establishment of oil palm plantations is often promoted as a way of bringing development to poor, rural regions of Borneo and Sumatra. In reality, the industry often has devastating impacts on the people in these areas
  15. All too often, the government’s main interest in the country’s economy leads them to allow corporations to take the land owned by indigenous peoples for their own financial benefit. 
  16. The palm oil industry is also linked to major human rights violations, including child labour in remote areas of Indonesia and Malaysia. Children are made to carry large loads of heavy fruit, weed fields and spend hours every day bent over collecting fruit from the plantation floor. Heat exhaustion and cuts and bruises from climbing thorny oil palms are commonplace in this damaging workspace. More than often not, children receive little or no pay for their efforts
  17. With plantations systematically destroying the rainforest land that the local people depend on, communities are continuously finding themselves with no choice but to become plantation workers. Faced with poor and degrading working conditions, they often earn barely enough income to survive and support their families. Instead of being able to sustain themselves, indigenous communities become reliant on the success of the palm oil industry for their income and survival, leaving these villagers incredibly vulnerable to the world market price of palm oil which they have no control over.

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