Published on Panorama, SYN Radio, April 16, 2013
Australian shoppers who have tried analysing labels of products in their regular supermarket would know it’s quite difficult to know whether a product is palm oil or animal cruelty free just from reading the label. However, a website called Ethikool is helping consumers decide which products they should be ditching from their trolleys.
Going to the supermarket and buying eco-friendly products that are recyclable, plam oil and animal cruelty free is a daily struggle for Australian consumers.
But two Australians from Aldinga in South Australia have created a website called Ethikool in an attempt to shine light on which companies are eco-friendly and which ones mislead consumers with labels.
Every product listed on Ethikool’s website is palm oil, chemical and animal cruelty free as well as Australian owned and vegan. Where possible Ethikool finds products that are also organic and recyclable.
To add more to the long list of demands to find ethical Australian products, website co-founder Glenn Alderson says Ethikool only supports companies that meet the above criteria for all of their products.
“To find companies to meet that criteria of palm oil free, animal cruelty free, no animal ingredients and being vegan as well is very hard,” Mr Alderson says.
Mr Alderson and his partner Kerri created the site just over one year ago. Mr Alderson was particularly inspired by his volunteer work with orangutans in Borneo, which experts predict will have completely lost their natural habitat within 20 years due to deforestation for palm oil.
“I’ve been doing that before we started Ethikool – that’s actually the reason why we started Ethikool. So I’ve seen the whole story first hand of what’s happening to the orangutans and the environment over there,” he says.
Indonesia currently has 6 milion hectares of palm oil plantations but still has plans for another 4 million hectares by 2015.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, with Indonesian officials saying the industry creates jobs and helps alleviate poverty in the developing nation.
But the deforestation that occurs in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations is affecting thousands of species that inhabit the forests, with Borneo Orangutan Survival claiming rainforests are being cleared at a rate of 300 football fields per hour.
A study found that palm oil is found in more than 40 percent of packaged products on supermarket shelves. However, Mr Alderson says the number of packaged foods that contain palm oil in some form is closer to 80 percent.
Palm oil has more than 200 different names and is frequently labelled as vegetable oil. in 2010 Senator Xenophon introduced a parliamentary bill calling for the mandatory labelling of palm oil in products.
However, despite widespread support from environmental and animal rights groups, the bill did not become legislation, with food and grocery manufacturers saying the mandatory labelling of palm oil would burden them with extra costs.
“The biggest thing we would love them to do is make it mandatory to label palm oil as the ingredient in the product instead of hiding behind these 200 names. I mean, if you’re going to consume a product you should have a right to know what your are consuming,” Mr Alderson says.
Mr Alderson says the only way Australians can be entirely sure that their eating habits are ethical is to steer clear of packaged goods and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vegetarian Victoria, a not-for-profit organisation, has been educating people about the environmental, ethical and health benefits of following a plant-based diet.
Vegetarian Victoria president Mark Doneddu says packaged foods are not only more costly and less nutritious, but their production also require a massive amount of energy, water and greenhouse gases.
“The amount that we feed cattle worldwide is enough to feed 8.7 billion people – more than the entire world’s population which is only 7 billion people by comparison,” he says.
“In Australia we have destroyed something like 93 percent of our natural habitat in the grazing area for the clearing of lands for the grazing of cattle so it doesn’t make sense.”
A recent study by the CSIRO found that up to 50,000 litres of water is required to produce one kilogram of beef. Meanwhile, one kilogram of potatoes requires only 500 litres of water.
Mr Doneddu says the amount of water required for meat production is as high as 100,000 litres in drought affected areas. He also says that when it comes to eating meat, there is an ethical aspect that people don’t often consider.
“The amount of cruelty and suffering we are subjecting animals to is horrendous, especially in factory farms where the animals are suffering and being tortured all the time. Even in the dairy industry you have a baby calf taken away from its mother in order to get the mother to lactate, and the baby is turned into veal and the mother is suffering all this time without her baby with her,” Mr Doneddu says.
“They found in abattoirs as animals are being slaughtered, they can tell from their heart rates and the production of fight or flight chemicals when animals are in fear that they increase massively, even when another animal is being slaughtered.”
“All that hidden suffering that people don’t think about is embedded in our food choices and that’s why its important to think about what people choose to eat because it has repercussions.”
Scientists have also found the vegan diet also significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, with people on a vegan diet living an average of 10 years longer than those following a normal diet.
Although Australians continue to consume packaged goods, Mr Alderson says he is confident that one day eco-friendly products will become the norm for Australian shoppers and manufacturers.
“The issue is definitely getting out there – there’s a campaign to make ANZAC biscuits palm oil free this ANZAC Day. So the word is definitely getting out there and change is happening.”