May 7, 2008 / 7:04 AM / in 11 years

Indonesia adopts stringent "green" palm oil standard

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, plans to take firm measures aimed at ensuring palm oil firms meet stringent standards before labeling their products as eco-friendly, an industry watchdog said on Wednesday.

The rapidly expanding palm oil industry in Southeast Asia has come under attack by green groups for destroying rainforests and wildlife, as well the emission of greenhouse gases.

An industry-led initiative, the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), has launched a green labeling certification process that includes commitments to preserve rainforests and wildlife and avoiding conflicts with indigenous people.

RSPO groups producers, consumers and green groups and palm oil companies that meet the criteria set by the RSPO will be able to market their certified “green products” in global markets.

Desi Kusumadewi, spokeswoman of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for Indonesia, said independent surveyors will be assigned to audit palm oil plantations and certify them as ‘eco-friendly’.

“Hopefully, the criteria will be officially approved by the end of May,” Kusumadewi said. “Basically, Indonesia will use the international standards but it will personalize the criteria based on its own considerations.”

Kusumadewi said three firms — PT Mutuagung Lestari, PT Tuv Nord and state surveyor firm PT Sucofindo — were waiting for approval to be RSPO audit programmers in Indonesia.

Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, has already had four certification bodies approved by RSPO.

Malaysia and Indonesia, home to more than 4 percent of the world’s rainforests, produce nearly 85 percent of total palm oil.

Both nations already have laws to protect tracts of rainforests against illegal logging, but green groups say penalties should be stiffened and that more rainforests should be locked away.

Earlier this month, Unilever, one of Indonesia’s top palm oil buyers, said it will start buying palm oil from certified sustainable sources this year and aims to have all its palm oil certified by 2015.

Indonesia is estimated to have produced more than 17 million tonnes of crude palm oil in 2007. It exported about 11.9 million tonnes of palm oil products to China, India and European countries.

Greenpeace estimates Indonesia had the fastest pace of deforestation in the world between 2000 and 2005, equivalent to 300 soccer pitches of forest destroyed every hour.

Reporting by Mita Valina Liem, editing by Sugita Katyal and Ben Tan

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