On the heels of writing about how the food industry is suddenly responding to consumer demand that our food supply be sustainable, I stumbled upon an article about how Unilever and Cargill, the two leading exporters of palm oil, were in the process of sourcing only sustainable oil. I wrote a small piece nearly two years ago examining the destructive properties of large-scale palm oil production in Indonesia, and was encouraged to believe that something had changed. Indeed, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a “Palm Oil Scoreboard,” which evaluated the efforts of several large companies, declaring that most of them were making a concerted effort to source palm oil that “protects both High Conservation Value and High Carbon stock forests.” But in a concentrated effort to locate these sustainable palm oil plantations in Indonesia I was stymied; the reason being that little has changed except the spin. The exact same “safeguards” are in place just as they have been since 2004, and they are inadequate at best.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded in 2004 and created a certification process known as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, or CSPO. This process allows manufacturers to purchase certificates that can be redeemed for palm oil which they then can claim is from segregated, fully traceable supply chains. Companies can legally claim that their products are not produced on plantations responsible for deforestation, loss of animal habitat and destruction of local economies. If you spy the stamp “GreenPalm” on your candy bar, you are supposed to be assured no orangutan had died to satisfy your sweet tooth.
RSPO and CSPO were created with admirable intentions. The problem lies in the fact that the issued certificates could be essentially meaningless as the little palm oil that is actually CSPO is much more expensive to purchase. The big companies aren’t willing to pay more, thus forcing producers to cheapen the load by adding more unsustainably produced oil into the mix. The producers sell the GreenPalm certificates which the end user redeems and is then able to make a sustainable claim. In this system, GreenPalm certificates tend to mask traceable and sustainable supply chains. Nick Thompson, CEO of New Britain Palm Oil, listed as an authentically sustainable producer of palm oil, says that “although we understand the theory behind GreenPalm certificate trading we have always thought that because the associated claim is so weak, the value to any buyer would be correspondingly low and therefore represent too little incentive to the growers…The value of certificates is pathetically low and the fact that such a massive percentage of GreenPalm certificates are being redeemed by a very small number of companies illustrates their lack of franchise in the market.” Another producer of palm oil, Agropalma of Brazil, rated by Greenpeace as the top maker of sustainable oil, issued a statement saying that “we are also against GreenPalm certificates and believe there is no sustainability where there is no traceability.”
The fact remains that Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Agropalma operates in Brazil and New Britain Palm Oil in Papua New Guinea. Companies such as Unilever and Cargill, among others, source their palm oil from Indonesia. That these companies claim to be working towards the purchase of sustainable oil may be true, but they are also being forced to do so by 2020, and that may certainly be too late. In the interim, vast tracks of land continue to be deforested. Given that the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (ISPO) dissociated itself from the RSPO and pledges to make its stringent standards mandatory for all producers of palm oil in the country by 2020, business interests in the area are conducting huge land grabs in anticipation. So not only are current programs ineffectual in stopping deforestation, the threat of stronger mandates appears to be ramping up production of palm oil and the subsequent razing of rain forests.
The sad irony lies in the fact that palm oil replaced the much maligned ingredient necessary for the production of processed food, trans-fat. Palm oil may not be as injurious to human health, but the consequences of its massive production are dire for the planet. It is estimated that Indonesia’s peatlands hold approximately 57 billion gigatons of carbon which is steadily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions as the forests are being destroyed. Work is being done to replace palm oil with a substance that “matches palm oil’s key properties almost identically,” but it’s still in the early stages of development and its cost is as yet too high.
Greed, politics and corruption are, of course, at the root of our blind willingness to destroy the planet. Good intentions by U.S. companies or the standards set by the ISPO may prove to be too little too late, particularly as China and India are the world’s biggest buyers of palm oil. All of the countries in the world must act now if we wish to preserve the rain forests of Indonesia.
Recipe of the Week
This is an incredibly simple recipe, exceptionally delicious, but it takes about three hours to make. Once you get it on the stove, however, it needs little attendance.
Pappardelle with Wild Boar
1 lb. ground wild boar
3 small stalks of celery, minced
4 Tbls. onion, minced
1 tiny carrot, minced
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 small can of organic tomato paste
2 Tbls. flour
2 tbls. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
8.8 ounce package of dried pappardelle
1 bottle of Italian red wine
In a large soup pot, preferably cast iron, heat the oil. Add the meat and brown. Add the carrot, onion and celery, stirring and cooking for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, tomato paste and flour, stirring it all together. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer on the lowest heat for at least 2 hours. I checked the pot and stirred in every half hour, and it was fine, needing no more liquid. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain but don’t rinse and stir into the sauce. This dish requires no sprinkles of cheese. It feeds at least four people.