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Don't Palm Us Off

On Friday 29 June, the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation met to once again discuss a number of food-related issues, one being the labelling of fats and oils on food products. 

While a decision on labelling of oils was once again delayed, for the first time, the Forum acknowledged that consumers’ ability to clearly identify fats in oils is restricted due to lack of labelling. 

The Forum also noted that they are tasked to make decisions based on health reasons, not environmental concerns. To us, this is a clear message that they heard all of your voices and want to acknowledge all the letters and emails you wrote on behalf of the orang-utans, tigers, elephants and other wildlife. 

To the tens of thousands of school children who put their hands up to write letters to their Minister this term, and the 9,985 people who wrote emails over the past few months, thank you!

The Ministers have asked the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Food Regulation Standing Committee to provide advice about fats and oil labelling to Ministers in mid-2019.

Victoria is the only state or territory in Australia to publicly support this legislation that would see palm oil clearly labelled on all food products.

After nine years of campaigning we're still not there yet, but we have taken a big step in the right direction. We'll keep you updated on next steps in continuing to fight for our wildlife - don't let them palm you off!

Select your state (right). We'll send an email to the minister representing you on your behalf now.

Many Australians are unaware of the hidden fats and oils on supermarket shelves and therefore are unknowingly contributing to environmental destruction and putting the health of their families at risk.

Palm oil is linked to rapid loss of biodiversity when produced unsustainably. It is found in around 50 per cent of packaged foods at the supermarket but is mostly hidden under the guise of ‘vegetable oil’.


Fast facts:

  • You are probably consuming palm oil every single day without realising it.
  • Palm oil is often disguised as "vegetable oil" on products.
  • Palm oil itself is not bad, but the unsustainable way that it's produced is devastating the habitats of orang-utans, rhinos, tigers and elephants.
  • Mandatory labelling of palm oil will help put pressure on food companies to start using sustainably-produced palm oil.
  • Consumer research shows that 95% of Australians support mandatory labelling of palm oil.
  • 419,000 Australians have already spoken out on behalf of orang-utans, tigers, rhinos and elephants as part of the Don't Palm Us Off campaign. 
  • The decision to introduce mandatory labelling of palm oil in Australia rests with a group of Ministers who make up the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation


So, shouldn't we just ask for palm oil to be banned?

Palm oil is not the enemy here, the way it's produced is what is the problem. Banning palm oil is not the best solution for the environment! When sustainably grown, palm oil is a highly efficient crop with a higher yield than other oil crops (meaning less land is required to produce palm oil than other oils).

A number of organisations including World Wildlife Fund and Zoos Victoria strongly believe that the palm oil industry can grow and prosper without destroying the habitats of orang-utans, rhinos, tigers and elephants.

How is palm oil disguised on products?

Palm oil is most often referred to as “vegetable oil”. However, it is often also called any of these:

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

How will mandatory labelling make a difference?

Never underestimate the power of the consumer! If palm oil is clearly labelled on products then palm oil that has been sustainably sourced, known as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), will also be easier for consumers to find. This in turn will put pressure on food manufacturers to start using CSPO resulting in increased demand on palm oil suppliers to start growing CSPO.


Pulling out the popcorn for Binturongs

Melbourne Zoo is celebrating World Binturong Day this week, aimed at generating awareness about a vulnerable species that smells fascinatingly just like popcorn!

15 May 2019

Melbourne Storm star player pledges support for Sumatran Tigers

Melbourne Storm rugby league premiership player Josh Addo-Carr will take time out from preparations for this week’s clash against the West Tigers to visit Melbourne Zoo and “adopt” a critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.

14 May 2019

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Sumatran Orang-utan close

Sumatran Orang-utan

These ‘people of the forest’ meet us at their level in an enclosure that makes for a satisfying encounter on both sides of the glass.

Sumatran Tiger

Sumatran Tiger

Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered in the wild. Zoos around the world, including Melbourne Zoo, have become part of the battle to prevent the extinction of this species.

Asian Elephant Mali

Asian Elephant

The Asian Elephant was once widespread throughout Asia. However, loss of habitat and poaching has forced remaining populations into heavily forested, inaccessible regions in south and South-East Asia. Countries in which the Asian Elephant may be found include Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand, Burma, China, Malaysia, India, Indonesia (on the island of Sumatra) and Cambodia. There may be fewer than 53,000 animals remaining throughout Asia and the wild population is decreasing.


Why is Zoos Victoria running the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign?

  • As a zoo-based conservation organisation we are committed to wildlife conservation.
  • Orang-utans, Tigers, Rhinos and Elephants are facing extinction and palm oil is the single biggest threat to their survival.
  • With more than 2.1 million visitors each year we have a unique opportunity to engage the public in conservation actions that will help secure the survival of species in the wild.

What does the campaign hope to achieve?

Don’t Palm Us Off aims to:

  • Secure the endorsement of Ministerial Health Forum for labelling of all vegetable oils.
  • Raise public awareness and secure support in order to build supporter engagement.

Biological Impact

  • Halting the loss of orang-utans in SE Asia due to unsustainable palm oil plantations, with a long term goal of ensuring palm oil no longer causes deforestation.

Social Impact

  • Ensuring all companies in Australia are using sustainably produced and clearly labelled palm oil, with an Australian public knowing and understanding why both goals are important.

Is Zoos Victoria calling for palm oil to be removed from all products?

No. We simply want a future where the only palm oil imported into Australia is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and where all palm oil is clearly labelled on products. Only when palm oil is clearly labelled and food and grocery manufacturers are using 100% CSPO can consumers have the right to make informed choices.

Why is Zoos Victoria calling for the labelling of all vegetable oils?

Palm oil is found in most food products, but the simple fact is that you can’t tell which food product is contributing to this crisis because manufacturers do not have to clearly label what type of vegetable oils is in their product. Without labelling, consumer influence is limited and difficult. Our right to make informed decisions is taken from us.

We want to bring Australia’s labelling legislation up to the same standard as the European Union, United States and Canada. In the six months leading up to the introduction of clearer labelling in the EU, demand for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil went up by 67 per cent.

What is certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO)?

Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is palm oil that is produced under a third-party global certification scheme through the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

CSPO is a vital tick of approval, aiming to respect the rights of the millions of people who rely on this industry, including customary land owners, local communities, plantation workers and small farmers to ensure that no new primary forests are cleared for production, and that mills minimise their environmental footprint. No land cleared after 2005 can be certified under the RSPO[1], meaning that future production is forced to make use of the millions of hectares of land already cleared and degraded in order to obtain certification and meet consumer demands.

Australia imports about 130,000 tonnes of palm oil each year, a fraction of the annual production of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) – which had grown to 5 million tonnes by the end of 2011[2].

Who are the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)?

Established in 2004, the RSPO is a not-for-profit organisation which unites stakeholders from all sectors of the palm oil industry, including environmental and social NGOs. Its members include the World Wildlife Fund and Oxfam, oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors.

Why do Zoos Victoria’s three zoos continue to sell products that contain palm oil?

Don’t Palm Us Off does not advocate for the boycott of palm oil and, equally, we have not put a blanket ban on selling products containing palm oil in our food outlets. Instead, we choose to stock brands that meet our sustainability and conservation principles and, where products contain palm oil, we seek complete transparency around sourcing and commitments. By supporting companies that are leading the way toward a holistic solution for the palm oil crisis we can help ensure they meet their commitments and encourage others to follow.

What is the problem with avoiding all products containing palm oil?

We believe that avoiding palm oil has limited positive outcomes and ignores some of the major threats driving the destruction of rainforest. By encouraging a mass boycott of palm oil we may push manufacturers to source alternative oils like soy or rapeseed which can require 6 to 10 times more land than is needed for palm oil[3]:
The world’s growing population means by 2050 we’ll need to produce 70% more food than we are producing now[4]. Our demand for edible oil can only increase, so it is crucial that we invest in developing sustainable systems that meet growing demands rather than diverting markets to oils that could be just as damaging.

The production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) aims to foster sustainable livelihoods for the millions of people who rely on this industry and alleviate the social conflict and human-rights abuses commonly associated with the development of new plantations.

Grocery manufacturers play an important role as the conduit between palm oil supplier and the consumer. Their actions can influence palm oil production whilst meeting the demands of you, the consumer.

More than 5 million tonnes of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) was produced in 2011[5], but without companies committed to purchasing and using it, forest destruction from unsustainable palm oil production will continue.

How do I know if a product contains Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO)?

Unfortunately with poor labelling standards around palm oil, it is currently almost impossible to tell if products contain palm oil, let alone if this palm oil is CSPO. We are working with with government and other agencies on behalf of our community to mandate the labelling of palm oil on all food products. Some companies are beginning to label CSPO using a trademark and our campaign webpage will provide updates on companies doing this. Note that companies can be a member of the RSPO without actually sourcing or using CSPO in their products. Only when they specify that they use 100% RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil can you be sure that it’s CSPO.

Couldn’t your campaign simply drive more demand for palm oil?

Zoos Victoria does not advocate for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil over all other oils. We simply ask that if palm oil is used in a product that it is RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil and clearly labelled. We understand the environmental, economic and social importance of the production of other edible oils in Australia and other parts of the world.

Can palm oil be orang-utan friendly but not have sustainable certification?

Yes. Not all palm oil comes from areas where orang-utans are found. Zoos Victoria uses the orang-utan as a palm oil ambassador but the production of palm oil can be just as destructive to the habitat of thousands of other species. Ask for 100% RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil as it aims to be wildlife friendly.

Is Book & Claim GreenPalm the same as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil?

No. Some companies are using a Book & Claim GreenPalm which is a great place to start but is an interim offset system set up to increase demand for CSPO, not and end-goal.

How do I know I can trust RSPO Certification of palm oil?

Currently, when it comes to palm oil, RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is the best option in protecting wildlife and human livelihoods- it is global, independent and involves transparent reporting at every step of the supply chain.

By supporting CSPO we aim to place more importance and more pressure on the RSPO and Principles & Criteria of CSPO to enable it to become a stronger organisation. A vote of no-confidence in the RSPO certification could enable other countries to establish their own certifications which do not have the benefit of third-party global certification standards. This will also mean more confusion for consumers.

On a global scale, Australia is a relatively small consumer of palm oil so is it really an issue?

Absolutely. Our consumption is still contributing to this crisis. We have an opportunity to lead other larger countries in the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and palm oil labelling.

What has the campaign achieved so far?

Don’t Palm Us Off launched in 2009. In the first year more than 163,000 Australians signed a petition to tell us they want palm oil labelled.  This sparked parliamentary discussion and a bill calling for labelling legislation was introduced. During the first 12 months of the campaign five of the six major Australian food manufacturers committed to 100% CSPO by 2015 (two referred to the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign as well as the work of WWF in influencing their decision).

What can I do to help?

  • Visit our Zoopermarket onsite at Melbourne Zoo to speak up on behalf of wild orang-utans.
  • Sign our petition to get palm oil labelled today.
  • Visit our website for more information

[1]Principle 7 of RSPO principles and criterion:

[2] World Wildlife Fun on RSPO:

[3] World Wildlife Fund:

[4] UN Food and Agriculture Organisation:

[5] WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard 2011 (International)

  • The production of palm oil typically costs the lives of at least 50 orang-utans each week.

  • Palm oil is found in around half of the food products on our supermarket shelves.

  • Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is palm oil that is produced under a third-party global certification scheme through the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

  • Only when palm oil is clearly labelled and food and grocery manufacturers are using 100% CSPO can consumers have the right to make informed choices.

  • Grocery manufacturers play an important role as the conduit between palm oil supplier and the consumer. You can help ensure that all palm oil coming into Australia is CSPO and clearly labelled. Contact the manufacturer of your favourite products today.

  • Don't Palm Us Off does not advocate for a boycott of palm oil. A mass boycott may push manufacturers to source alternative oils like soy or rapeseed which can be just as destructive. It is crucial that we invest in developing sustainable systems that protect environmental and social systems now rather than diverting the problem.