South African volunteer group No Palm Oil has released a list of products that contain the controversial ingredient – and even in its early stages it features many household names and products, from rusks to face cream.
The list identifies many individual McDonald's meals as being prepared with palm oil, as well as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (which are fried in a palm-oil shortening), and warns that volunteers have been unable to determine if there are any KFC products at all that are not fried in palm oil.
Various types of bread from Albany, Blue Ribbon, and Woolworths feature, as do cereals from Bokomo and Kellogg's, Ouma rusks, and Bakers biscuits. The list also includes crisps from Simba, Lays, and Doritos, coffee drinks from Nescafe, spreads from Black Cat and Yum Yum, sweets from Nestlé, and ready-made meals from Woolworths.
Then there are the cosmetics: soaps from Dove, shaving cream from Gillette, moisturisers from Vaseline, and antiperspirants from Nivea.
In a post on the No Palm Oil initiative – which links to the database of products – organiser Nechama Brodie says that "with few exceptions, the majority of manufacturers and retailers have done bugger-all about cutting out palm oil or switching to certified sustainable sources".
But the current list is only a small, and somewhat skewed, start, Brodie told Business Insider South Africa.
"Eventually it is going to be a hundred times or more this size... It is so small for now because it is hard to get the information."
Companies such as Woolworths that publish detailed ingredients of products online are disproportionately represented on the list right now, Brodie said, simply because their products are easy to check. Walking the shelves of supermarkets is much more time-consuming – and even that will not complete the list.
Products can contain a derivative of palm oil that has no apparent link to palm oil, including ingredients such as "vitamin A" or "vegetable oil", she said.
Palm oil has long been linked to environmental destruction, but a recent upsurge in high-visibility activism by the likes of Greenpeace, awareness initiatives that closely link the oil to the fate of orangutans, and attempts by consumer companies to prove they are working to limit its impact, have put it firmly back on the agenda.
Palm oil has been identified as the biggest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, with associated impacts on climate change and habitat destruction – and massive air pollution for various countries as entire forests are set on fire.
Many major consumer companies have committed themselves to using only sustainably produced palm oil, but reports from the likes of Geenpeace have claimed that even some of those companies are still buying oil from mills that deal in distinctly un-sustainable product. Sustainability efforts have also seen trouble with reporting systems, and earlier this year Nestlé was briefly suspended from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for missing a deadline on submitting a roadmap.
British supermarket chain Iceland had planned to use an ad depicting palm oil manufacturers terrorising orangutans as a centrepiece of its Christmas advertising, but a regulator said it breached rules on political advertising. The retailer posted the ad on YouTube instead, where it has seen more than 3.75 million views in the last week.
In Europe an estimated 40% of palm oil is used in fuel, after a 2008 European Union decision that 10% of all transport fuel must be biofuels.
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