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WWF: More firms should buy eco-friendly palm oil

By Sean Yoong
Associated Press / November 22, 2011

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—More companies in Europe, Japan and Australia should buy palm oil from environmentally responsible sources to curb threats to tropical forests, an international conservation group said Tuesday.

The WWF said its assessment of 132 major retailers and manufacturers showed that only half of the palm oil they use is considered "sustainable," even though 87 of the companies have pledged to use only eco-friendly oil by 2015.

It said in a statement released at an environmental meeting on palm oil in Malaysia that many companies are making "commendable progress" in reducing deforestation caused by the spread of palm oil plantations, but urgent action by others is still needed.

Conservationists say large tracts of forests in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared in recent decades to create plantations, causing ecological damage, forcing out indigenous communities and threatening wildlife such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos.

Producers of palm oil considered sustainable include ones that pledge not to destroy virgin forests and to practice strict land acquisition policies that don't undermine local communities.

The WWF praised companies including Nestle, Unilever, IKEA, Carrefour, Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Cadbury for being responsible in how they purchase significant volumes of palm oil.

But overall, nearly half of retailers and more than 20 percent of manufacturers surveyed scored very poorly, the WWF said. The survey focuses on the main palm oil markets in Europe, Japan and Australia.

"All companies, even some of the top performers, need to move faster," WWF official Adam Harrison said in the statement. "Only then can we ensure that the momentum ... is not lost and avoid the negative impacts of irresponsible oil palm plantations on forests, wildlife and communities."

Palm oil certified as sustainable currently accounts for about 10 percent of global production, but only about half of it is sold, the WWF said.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce more than 80 percent of the world's palm oil, an industrial lubricant and ingredient in a wide range of products ranging from cooking oil and cosmetics to soaps, bread and chocolate.