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Take Care When Choosing

By Lynda Oates, Wodonga

Consumers these days are much more savvy when shopping for food and other household products. Labelling now pronounces “Low Fat”, “Less Sugar”, “Baked Not Fried”, “Biodegradable” and a myriad other benefits.

Something that slips under most people’s radar is an ingredient that is in nearly 50% of packaged food and other products on our supermarket shelves – PALM OIL!

Palm oil is a cheap edible oil derived from the Oil Palm. It is grown in tropical regions in Africa, South America, Malaysia and South East Asia. Edible oil is extracted from the palm fruit and used in foods. It has a long shelf life compared to some vegetable oils, so this makes it more attractive and cost effective to food manufacturers. It is used in products such as margarine, chocolate, biscuits and chips. Oil from the palm kernel is also extracted for use in cosmetics such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and body lotions.

Malaysia and Indonesia now produce around 85% of the world’s palm oil. Of this, Australia imports approximately 130,000 tonnes.  Our insatiable appetite for this product results in mass deforestation of rainforests in order to establish oil palm crops. This results in the loss of habitat for endangered and threatened species such as the Sumatran and Bornean orang-utan and the Asian elephant and tiger.

The UN’s Environment Programme estimates that in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, forest is being cleared at a rate of 300 football fields every hour.

If we only took time to read the labels on our purchases a little more carefully, we could shun palm oil products and help reduce the rate of deforestation. This would in turn help reduce the loss of habitat for threatened and endangered species

Ingredients to look out for on products labels are:  

Palmate or Palmitate

Pamlitic acid

Sodium Lauryl, Laureth or Dodecyl  Sulphate (in soaps, shampoos & body lotions)

Stearate, steartyl, steareth-2 or 20

Cetyl alcohol or cetearyl

SDS or NaDS Sodium

Elaeis guineensis


Emulsifiers 422,439-36, 465-67, 470-8, 481-83

Cocoa butter equivalent (CBE) or substitute (CBS)

This list is not exhaustive and may look intimidating, but they are very common ingredients contained in very many products. So while you are checking out the contents on your next packet of biscuits or jar of simmer sauce, please bear in mind those struggling rainforests and endangered animals and keep your eye on the small print.

For more information visit: www.orangutan.org.au