The article How to fight the haze three times a day by PM Haze reminds us that despite Indonesia’s national moratorium on peatland forest clearing, deforestation continues. Protected peatland forests, home to rare and endangered species like the Sumatran elephants and tigers, are still being illegally cleared and burnt to make way for oil palm plantations.
Each dry season fires race across the peatlands producing masses of smoke and leaving behind a scorched earth ready for the planting of neat rows of oil palms. This smoke is a major contributor to global warming but it is also a toxic mix of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, cyanide and formaldehyde. It also carries microscopic particles coated with carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Such is its toxicity that in 2015 it forced the closure of all Singapore’s schools and may have caused the early deaths of more than 100,000 people in South-east Asia.
Surveying the problem
Palm oil is present in half the consumer products that we buy (packaged foods and personal care products), it is also the most commonly used cooking oil in Asia.
Last year the survey PM.Haze conducted revealed that 32 out of 33 popular eatery chains in Singapore used cooking oil that contains palm oil.
PM.Haze does not advocate boycotting palm oil but seeks to improve the way palm oil is produced.
The conscious consumer
There is much we can do about this problem. Consumers can adopt several strategies:
- reduce unnecessary consumption of palm oil and other vegetable oils. Eat less fried food and choose less oily (and healthier) food instead. Reducing demand for vegetable oil is a key step towards driving down the need to clear more land.
- choose palm oil products certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This certifies the palm oil is from growers that don’t engage in forest clearing and burning. In Singapore, there are already four brands of cooking oil that are RSPO-certified. Also, Ikea Singapore and the Singapore Zoo use sustainable cooking oil in their food outlets.
- tell others about the issue. Most of the eateries PM Haze spoke to were not even aware that they were using palm oil and mentioned terms like “vegetable oil” or “tempura oil” – generic names for palm oil.
Consumers have the power to spur businesses to minimise negative impacts on the health of our people and planet. Let’s demand that businesses act responsibly and go haze-free.
A report from the WWF
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reports that two out of three Singapore brands they contacted failed to respond to a request to disclose their palm oil usage.
WWF Singapore contacted 27 local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands with a survey to assess their buying and sourcing of palm oil. Only 10 companies responded.
Ayam Brand, which uses only certified sustainable palm oil for its canned food products, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which uses palm oil for cooking in its food and beverage outlets, scored highest in the report.
Those not responding included:
- BreadTalk Crystal Jade
- Bee Cheng Hiang
- Dairy Farm
- Khong Guan
- Paradise Group
- Tung Lok
- Commonwealth Capital brand Soup Spoon, PastaMania and Udders
Since the launch of the campaign, these companies have committed to sustainable palm oil: Bee Cheng Hiang, Commonwealth Capital, Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holding, Paradise Group Holdings, Super Group and Tung Lok.
WWF said the level of “non-discosure and lack of action” among brands in Singapore and Malaysia was higher than the global average.
WWF-Singapore has launched a campaign to get consumers to pressure local brands on their use of palm oil, by sending emails to the companies via https://palmoil.sg.
WWF Singapore observed that unsustainable practices in the palm oil industry are at the root of the transboundary haze and deforestation. It added that, the brands not using sustainable palm oil cited internal factors such as capacity issues and higher costs preventing a switch to sustainable palm oil. Sustainable palm oil options start at less than S$0.01 more per litre.