Last Wednesday June 16th, the European Parliament took the first step towards the approval of a new directive on the "Provision of food information to consumers" (COD/2008/0028), also known as the Sommer Report. Importantly the Parliament also approved a proposed amendment to the text that would require the clear labelling of the presence of palm oil in products. The amendment in question was proposed by Irish MEP Nessa Childers (pictured right), who is working closely with EAZA on this initiative. EAZA issued a position statement on the subject last month.
"I campaigned for this legislation because I strongly believe that consumers are entitled to complete information on the make-up of the food products they choose to consume," Ms. Childers said. "Equally, European consumers should be reasonably entitled to make a judgment as to what type of vegetable oil they consume based on a number of criteria, including the impact on the environment and habitats from which the oil has been sourced."
Last week saw what is known as the "first reading" of the document in the European Parliament, which represents all citizens of the European Union. Having cleared this important hurdle, the directive, which is a very long document, will now move forward to the Council of the European Union, which represents the individual member states. It is possible that the Council will propose further changes to the document in which case it would need to return to the Parliament again for a second reading, probably sometime next year.
Once agreement is reached between Parliament and Council, companies would have three years in which to comply with the new regulations. Last week's breakthrough was therefore just the first step and there is still some way to go. Nonetheless it can be seen as an important breakthrough.
In recent weeks, EAZA members across the EU had been urging their local MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) to support the initiative. While EAZA and its members are engaged in significant work on both in situ and ex situ species conservation, the regulatory change that would follow the implementation of the food labelling directive, including the palm oil amendment, would have a major impact on efforts to protect important habitats.
EAZA will launch its next annual conservation campaign in September, focusing on apes and specifically highlighting the role of unsustainable palm oil production in driving the orangutan, the gibbon, and many other Southeast Asian species to extinction. The direct link to European consumer behaviour will also be highlighted as part of this campaign. The success of the palm oil amendment to the food labelling directive would contribute greatly to allowing consumers to adjust their behaviour so as to improve the situation for these threatened species.
One of EAZA's main overall strategic priorities is to make the Association's voice heard more clearly within the EU institutions. These actions related to palm oil represent just one element of EAZA's engagement at that level. In the past EAZA played an important role in putting the issue of bushmeat on the agenda in Europe, and the EAZA European Carnivore Campaign is currently engaged in a signature action that aims to target the illegal use of poison to control wildlife.