Illegal wildfires lighting up Indonesia may be down to palm oil demand says NASA

By Andrew MCDOUGALL contact

- Last updated on GMT

NASA's Terra satellite image of smog over Indonesia, collected on August 27, 2013
NASA's Terra satellite image of smog over Indonesia, collected on August 27, 2013
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration suggests that widespread wildfires in Indonesia are not started accidentally, but are part of a ‘slash and burn’ strategy employed by palm oil companies to clear land.

The setting for such fires in Indonesia is illegal, although NASA and other reports suggest that it is not acting as a deterrent to plantation owners as they continue this practice.

Palm oil is the single largest traded vegetable oil commodity in the world, and global demand is rising rapidly, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Good practice

Palm oil, and its derivatives, are present in about 70 per cent of cosmetic products and is increasingly used in the manufacture of cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals and industrial products, as well as to make biodiesel fuel.

There are many legal and sustainable initiatives in place in the industry to ensure the proper production of palm oil, such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the GreenPalm Inititiative.

Big industry players such as L’Oréal, Unilever and Avon, among others, have all found themselves committing to sustainable palm oil as consumer demand for ethically and environmentally sound products increases; as awareness of its presence has increased and pressure grows to make the industry more sustainable.

By-products

However, there appears to be a rogue practice in place, and according to a report from The Huffington Post​, Laurel Sutherlin of the Rainforest Action Network, sent the paper an email stating, "Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra."

One of the major issues with this practice is deforestation; something the cosmetics industry is doing its best to combat.

NASA also states that one of the worst by-products of this practice is the harmful smog produced by the fires, which some reports suggest have been recorded at dangerous levels on the pollution index.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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