Sunday, 12 July 2009

Zoo bars Cadbury products

By Catherine Woulfe and Kerrie Waterworth

Sunday Star Times New Zealand


JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post

CHOCOLATE BAN: Cadbury products are off the shelves at Auckland Zoo because orang-utans, such as its resident Intan, are losing their habitats due to palm-oil farming.

A consumer backlash is mounting over Cadbury's decision to add palm oil to its chocolate, with Auckland Zoo pulling the confectionary giant's products from its shops and restaurant because of concern over the damage palm oil production does to rainforests.

Users of social networking sites have set up "boycott Cadbury" groups, and plans are under way for a petition urging Parliament to warn consumers about palm oil. And Green MP Sue Kedgley has waded into the debate, urging people to vote with their wallets.

Auckland Zoo conservation officer Peter Fraser says the problem with palm oil is that to produce it, rainforest is being cleared in South East Asia.

That means the endangered orang-utans are losing their habitat and the zoo predicts that if palm oil production continues at its current pace, none of the animals will be left in the wild in 10 years.

Keepers at the zoo are also weaning themselves off other products containing palm oil, like Tim Tams, instant noodles, Milo and even shaving cream. The zoo has also published an orang-utan-friendly shopping list on its website.

The zoo is also removing palm oil products from animal feed: the three orang-utans unknowingly behind the boycott now get tiny amounts of palm oil-free chocolate as rewards. But the flamingos are stuck with palm kernel feed, admits Fraser.

"We're looking for replacements for that, but we haven't yet found them."

Wellington Zoo's commercial development manager Beth Houston supported Auckland Zoo's stance. "Anything they are doing to help rainforest species is good by us."

Wellington Zoo has Sumatran tigers and gibbons, which are also affected by deforestation. While Wellington Zoo had not gone as far as to boycott products, it worked closely with food suppliers to encourage "ethical purchasing".

Cadbury recently started adding palm oil to its chocolate, which appears as "vegetable fat" on the packaging. It also downsized its 150g and 250g bars about 20 percent. While critics said adding palm oil and shrinking the bars were cost-cutting moves, the Cadbury website said this was done "for a number of reasons".

Spokesman Daniel Ellis said consumer feedback showed the vegetable fat improved the chocolate's texture. He said Cadbury was a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) a body tasked with ensuring responsible and sustainable palm oil crops.

"While we understand the passion some members of the community have about palm oil, we believe that the palm oil we use is sourced in a sustainable manner and we hope that people will take the time to understand that."

He said Cadbury's palm oil was sourced primarily from Malaysia not from Sumatra, Borneo or any of the other regions where the orang-utan is under threat.

"We really do understand that some people would prefer we hadn't changed the chocolate."

Fraser said though that RSPO had made "minimal" progress towards sustainability and belonging to it did not mean the palm oil Cadbury used was sustainable. He said just 4 percent of the oil produced worldwide was certified sustainable.

New Zealand natural history film-maker Judith Curran was scathing of RSPO, calling it "an incredibly clever public relations exercise".

Curran, who spent five years filming orang-utans for the Animal Planet series Orangutan Island, pointed consumers to the Greenpeace website, which claimed RSPO was behind illegal clearing of rainforests.

Chocolate-producing rival Whittaker's is loving the palm oil spat. Marketing manager Philip Poole said Whittaker's had been experiencing unusually high demand since Cadbury's recipe change.

"Although cocoa butter is more expensive, it's our pure cocoa products that give our chocolate its very distinctive premium-quality taste."

-Additional reporting, Tony Wall