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Big food companies accused of risking climate catastrophe

A recently Greenpeace report says that the peatland in Riau, Indonesia, where palm oil plantations are, is a major cause of deforestation. Many of the largest food and fuel companies risk climate change disaster by driving the demand for palm oil and biofuels grown on the world's greatest peat deposits, a report will say today.

Unilever, Cargill, Nestlé, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, as well as all leading UK supermarkets, are large users of Indonesian palm oil, much of which comes from the province of Riau in Sumatra, where an estimated 14.6bn tonnes of carbon - equivalent to nearly one year's entire global carbon emissions - is locked up in the world's deepest peat beds.

More than 1.4m hectares of virgin forest in Riau has already been converted to plantations to provide cooking oil, but a further 3m hectares is planned to be turned to biofuels. Carbon is released when virgin forests are felled and the swampy peatlands are drained to provide plantation land.

The peat decomposes and is broken down by bacteria and the land becomes vulnerable to fires which often smoulder and release greenhouse gases for decades. If the peatlands continue to be destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, this will significantly add to global climate change emissions.

Nearly half of Indonesia's 22m hectares of peatland has already been cleared and drained, resulting in it having the third-highest man-made carbon emissions, after the US and China. Destruction of its peatlands already accounts for nearly 4% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

The peat soils of Riau, which are eight metres deep in areas, have the highest concentration of carbon stored per hectare anywhere in the world. "This huge store is at risk from drainage, clearance and fire". "The area of peatland is relatively small, but destroying it would be the equivalent of releasing five years' emissions from all the world's coal and gas power stations."

Riau's plantations already provide 40% of all Indonesia's palm oil, and half the province is expected to be covered in plantations within a few years. The Indonesian plantations provide oil used in global brands like Flora margarine, Pringles, KitKat, Cadbury's Flake and Philadelphia cream cheese, feed a rising global demand for cheap vegetable oil used in producing food, cosmetics and, increasingly and also vehicle fuel.  

And in some years what is going on?Demand for palm oil as a cooking oil is predicted to double within 25 years and triple by 2050. Further expansion in Indonesia is expected to be on the wet peatlands, because most of the dry forests have already been converted (Greenpeace report). 

What is palm oil? Is it so important to cause deforestation of land’s hectares?

Palm oil, despite being the most used vegetable oil for cooking (primarily because of its huge use in industrial food preparations), is one of the most unhealthy cooking oils available (after Coconut oil). Its heavy use nonetheless in the commercial food industry can thus only be explained by its comparatively low price, being one of the cheapest vegetable or cooking oils on the market.

I completely agree with this Greenpeace report and my suggestion is Food Companies should to replace and use alternative cooking oil such as canola oil, soy oil or sunflower oil. This should be done also when the consumer prepare the food themselves or when they buy prepared foods, but this is not so simple specially when palm oil is described on food labels simply as "vegetable oil", instead of "palm oil"! I think is a right for everyone to know what is buying and eating, or not!

Sara Cordara
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