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Wildlife groups hail new EU legislation as a boost for responsible palm oil production

Wildlife groups hail new EU legislation as a boost for responsible palm oil production

New Europe-wide legislation came into effect on 13th December which means that palm oil will no longer be a hidden ingredient on food packaging – a move which conservation groups are hailing as a significant step forward for the protection of orangutans and other endangered species.

The production of palm oil, a vegetable oil found in up to half of all packaged food on supermarket shelves, is a major driver of deforestation in countries across south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa.  Previously hidden behind the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ on ingredients lists, most consumers were unaware of the link between their weekly shop and the expansion of plantations into lowland rainforests, threatening many iconic species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos in SE Asia and, as plantations expand in Africa, gorillas, chimpanzees and African forest elephants. 

A coalition of conservation groups, including the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), Elephant Family, Orangutan Foundation, Save the Rhino, the Jane Goodall Institute, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Ape Alliance, have been working together to tackle the problem.

Following their Clear Labels, Not Forests campaign in 2011, the EU adopted a new law which requires the labelling of specific vegetable oils, including palm oil, on food products. Companies were given three years to comply, and the new legislation came into force on 13th December 2014.

Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), explained the significance of the new law: ‘Mandatory labelling will support vital changes in the palm oil industry by allowing shoppers to make informed choices about what they buy. Responsible companies that make or sell products containing palm oil will want to reassure their customers that their products are not contributing to deforestation and loss of wildlife. Retailers and manufacturers now have the incentive to play their part in transforming the palm oil industry and breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation.’

The group acknowledges that labelling palm oil makes it easier for shoppers to avoid products containing it altogether, but caution that a boycott may have unintended consequences.

Helen Buckland said ‘Avoiding palm oil may not actually help protect orangutans and other biodiversity. All agriculture has a footprint, and palm oil is a very efficient way of producing vegetable oil – if companies were forced to switch to alternative oils, up to ten times as much land would be needed to meet global demand for vegetable oils. A boycott might also drive the price of palm oil down, possibly leading to increased demand in markets such as India and China. What we need to do is ensure that it is cultivated in the least damaging way possible.’

The group are encouraging consumers to support companies that have made commitments to use responsible palm oil, produced without harming the environment or local communities. They have produced a comprehensive factsheet to help consumers make informed choices, available online from

Photograph: Layton Thompson 

written by Elephant Family on 15 December 14


Action Taken to Stop the Illegal Trade in Live Asian Elephants

Action Taken to Stop the Illegal Trade in Live Asian Elephants

Campaigning to stop the illegal live trade in Asian elephants has for the last few years been a major focus for Elephant Family. Young, wild elephants are being illegally captured to supply a lucrative tourism trade in Thailand and once caught, calves are subjected to a horrific domestication process before winding up at elephant camps. For every wild caught calf that makes it alive into a camp, it is estimated that up to two others will die from this 'domestication' process, and as many as five others are killed during the capture.

An Assessment of the Live Elephant Trade in Thailand is a report released by TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network earlier this year. Prepared on behalf of Elephant Family, it provides details of between 79 and 81 wild elephants that were illegally captured in the wild for sale into the tourist industry in Thailand between April 2011 and March 2013. Of 53 cases for which the origin of the elephants is known, 92% were captured in Myanmar. These reports have since been confirmed by Myanmar government, which has pointed out that unrest in their country has been exploited by smugglers.

A Significant Step Forward

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva this year, Elephant Family took the next significant step in stopping this horrific practice for good. As a result of our campaign, governments from around the world have agreed that urgent action must be taken to stop this horrific practice. CITES officials will now investigate how countries involved are tackling this issue, requiring them to do more.

This latest progress builds on our success last year, when the issue was first added to the key resolution on “Trade in Elephant Specimens”, which governs international efforts to protect both Asian and African elephants. This had previously focused almost exclusively on the illegal trade in ivory and how it is affecting African elephants, but now Elephant Family has firmly placed the Asian elephant on the agenda.

In conjunction with the Ecologist Film Unit and Link TV, Elephant Family launched an investigation into the brutal baby elephant smuggling practice. You can watch the report here.

written by Elephant Family on 07 October 14

Tags: Live Trade, CITES, Tourism, Geneva

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