Palm Oil Sourcing Should Be Disclosed to Consumers, Sustainability Study Recommends
By Alex Kirby
Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers' own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.
Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers' knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.
Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld is the study's lead author. "The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil," she said.
"But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.
We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption."
Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of "ecolabels" such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabeled products they included in their weekly household shopping.
The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77 percent), with 41 percent of those aware of it viewing it as "environmentally unfriendly." Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.
"In terms of label recognition versus action, 82 percent of people recognized the Fairtrade label, but only 29 percent actively buy Fairtrade products," Dr. Ostfeld said.
"Only five percent recognized the RSPO label—the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one percent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping."
The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.
Action Not Guaranteed
"This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95 percent physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label," Dr. Ostfeld said.
"Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed."
To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. "Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible," Dr. Ostfeld explained. "Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.
"We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily."
Dr. Ostfel emphasized the benefits of transparent sourcing:
"Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they're sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.
We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain."
Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments' policies and to steer investment into research.
A year ago one major U.S. financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies.
Some good news: World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts #deforestation https://t.co/mgXJYZSsFe— LRFF (@LRFF)1544546114.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>