JAKARTA, Indonesia – Environmentalists on Friday praised a decision by U.S. food-maker General Mills to stop buying palm oil from companies accused of rain forest destruction — the latest in a string of multinationals to announce policy reversals.
The Minnesota-based maker of popular brands like Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Hamburger Helper said this week it would try to procure all of its palm oil from "responsible and sustainable sources" by 2015.
"We are concerned about the role of palm oil expansion in the deforestation of the world's rain forests," the company announced on its website.
Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia are the two largest producers of palm oil, used for everything from frying food to making cosmetics, candy and — when mixed with diesel — cleaner burning fuel for cars.
In recent years, advocacy groups in the United States and Europe have warned that the rapidly growing industry is destroying large tracts of forests and encroaching on the habitats of orangutans and other endangered species.
Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group that has been pushing for change, applauded General Mills' decision, saying it hoped it would "serve as a wake-up call for others in the food industry."
Already, U.S. companies Unilever, Nestle, Kraft and Burger King have announced similar shifts in policy, breaking ties with the Indonesian-based palm oil producer, PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology.
Barry Furqon, who heads the local environmental group, Walhi, said growing awareness by multinationals about the negative impact of the industry was "a slap in the face of the government."
"International consumers are expressing concern about the protection of our environment," he said. "But the government could care less."