In recent weeks, activists have sought to bring heightened attention to the palm-oil industry and the impact of its supply chain, with accusations of denigrating rainforests and the habitats of orangutans ("Cargill can save the orangutan," Dec. 13).
As a global supplier of palm oil and other food ingredients, this concerns us at Cargill, and we are committed to tackling the complex environmental, social and economic challenges associated with it.
What is palm oil? It is an edible oil made from the fruit of palm trees and is used in much the same way as other cooking oils, from shortening to clear vegetable oils. It is one of the most widely used food ingredients in China, India and Indonesia. Some companies in North America and Europe use it to bake cookies, crackers, biscuits and cakes.
Cargill believes palm can be grown sustainably, without harming the rainforest, and we are proud to say we've been supplying sustainable palm oil since 2010. We grow palm fruit trees on agricultural land, not on forest land with high conservation value.
We buy palm fruit from thousands of small farmers who use responsible farming practices, too. The South Sumatran government in Indonesia has honored Cargill for lifting those farmers out of poverty, helping them develop their own healthy agricultural business that can be passed on from generation to generation.
Cargill has taken many steps to ensure that our palm-oil suppliers are working toward higher standards. In 2004, Cargill was one of the first companies to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international organization working to make the palm oil industry more sustainable.
In 2009, Cargill was one of the first companies to receive RSPO certification for our PT Hindoli plantation in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Indeed, this plantation served as a pilot for developing RSPO criteria that are now applied to other companies in the palm industry.
Even before the establishment of the RSPO, Cargill proactively developed its own set of strict guidelines. These included preserving rainforests, protecting the habitat of orangutans and tigers, respecting local land rights, and supporting local communities with schools and medical care.
In addition to providing sustainable palm oil to customers now, we are the first trading company moving toward a 100-percent-sustainable supply chain for palm oil. More than a year ago, Cargill made a corporate commitment that by 2015 it would supply only RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil to North America, Western Europe, Australia and Brazil.
By 2020, this commitment would expand to the rest of the world. Already today, 94 percent of the palm oil we source is from palm plantations that are RSPO members committed to improving sustainable practices and obtaining RSPO certification.
Smallholder farmers also play a key role in the production of sustainable palm oil. In 2010, Cargill helped 8,800 small farmers who supply us in South Sumatra gain RSPO certification. They were the first smallholder farmers in the world to do so. Helping them get trained in responsible farming practices is part of our responsibility to the environment and helps them get higher prices for their crops.
Cargill is developing a similar farmer-training program for 10,000 smallholder farmers in Malaysia.
Since 2004, Cargill also has worked with and supported a number of respected environmental groups, such as the World Wildlife Foundation, to protect and monitor orangutan habitats, work with third-party suppliers and promote programs that protect biodiversity. We've welcomed activists from the Rainforest Action Network to our facilities on three continents. They have even toured one of our palm oil plantations.
At Cargill, we recognize our role in feeding the world's growing population and understand the need for responsible supply chains to accomplish this task. Being good stewards of the environment and growing more food on the least amount of land is essential to feeding what is expected to be 2 billion more people on the planet by 2050.
In addition to working with palm oil suppliers, Cargill also supports sustainability efforts in the cocoa, cotton, beef, sugar and soy industries, among others. To learn more about these commitments and the programs we are actively supporting, please visit go here.
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Mike Fernandez is vice president for corporate affairs at Cargill.