Palm-oil traders plot environmental drive

The palm-oil industry, under siege from green campaigners over its alleged threat to wildlife, is close to launching a PR fightback.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), responsible for a large proportion of the oil's global production, has approached a number of international PR groups for a brief understood to be worth around £500,000.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in many processed foods, and is so widespread that Friends of the Earth claims it can be found in one in ten products sold in supermarkets.

Environmentalists are concerned that the expansion of plantations in the principal growing areas of Malaysia and Indonesia are threatening orangutans.

Rainforests are being destroyed by logging and deforestation at such a rate that FotE has claimed the apes could be extinct in the wild within 12 years.

MPOC is also denying reports that palm oil increases cholesterol and heightens the risk of heart disease.

But the oil is also being touted as a significant bio­fuel, with the potential to provide clean energy. This summer all major UK supermarkets became members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. This week, RWE npower dropped its plans for a biofuel power station because it could not import enough of the fuel from sustainable sources.

MPOC is keen to stress its environmental credentials and ­promote the fact that the Malaysian government has vowed to protect 60 per cent of the country's forest.

However, neighbouring Indonesia is not as strict, and the reputation of palm oil as a destructive cash crop is being fuelled by deforestation in the region. MPOC chief executive Yusof Basiron has urged Indonesia to curb the destruction of ­orangutan habitats.

As well as bread, biscuits, crisps and chocolate, palm oil is also used in soaps, detergents, cosmetics, plastics and printing inks.

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