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Campaigners attack General Mills on palm oil policy

By Guy Montague-Jones , 22-Jan-2010

General Mills is facing accusations that the palm oil used in its food products is sourced unsustainably, and is strongly linked to deforestation in Southeast Asia.

The Rainforest Action Network kick started a campaign against the US food giant this week by unfurling a 30 x 70 ft banner outside its Minneapolis headquarters reading “Warning: General Mills Destroys Rainforests”.

This publicity event marks the beginning of a drive by the environmental group to persuade General Mills to publically commit to sourcing palm oil in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

Deforestation

Palm oil is an increasingly popular ingredient in food and toiletries, but its production has had a devastating effect on South Asian rainforests, clearing habitats for endangered species like tigers and orang-utans, while also adding to carbon emissions.

Environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) have therefore been putting pressure on companies to buy sustainably.

The RAN claims that General Mills is violating its own social and environment commitments by buying palm oil unsustainably. By putting pressure on the company to change the lobbying group hopes catalyze change in the industry.

“General Mills could do a lot to transform the palm oil supply in the food industry and to protect rainforests, communities and the climate,” said the RAN campaigner Madeline Gardner.

General Mills reply

General Mills claims that the RAN accusations are unfounded. Answering the call to commit to sustainable sourcing the company said “We have – and we do.”

The company said it has engaged suppliers directly in discussions about palm oil production, and that it only buys from suppliers that are members of the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

But members of the RSPO have come in for criticism for not taking sustainability seriously. Greenpeace accused the RSPO member and palm oil supplier Sinar Mas in December of deforestation and peatland clearance.

The WWF has also claimed that demand for certified sustainable is currently low with only one percent of sustainably sourced oil sold as certified. The rest is mixed up with un-certified oil.

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