Students petition curry puff makers to use sustainable palm oil

TOH EE MING Today Online 12 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — A petition by two teenage environmental advocates to get local curry puff makers Old Chang Kee and Polar Puffs & Cakes to use sustainable palm oil has garnered more than 3,300 signatures.

Launched on Monday (Oct 9), the petition “Tell Old Chang Kee & Polar Puffs to stop frying our rainforests” is gunning for 5,000 signatures.

It was started by 19-year-old university student Regina Vanda and 15-year-old United World College student Gauri Shukla, who are part of a group called Students of Singapore (SOS) Against Haze. The duo said their petition singled out the two companies because curry puffs are an iconic local snack that involve a significant amount of oil to prepare.

But they want other homegrown companies to also adopt sustainable practices, joining foreign firms that have already done so. Swedish furniture giant IKEA, for instance, uses certified-sustainable palm oil for candle-making, food production and food preparation.

The students said they have reached out to more than 20 other local firms including BreadTalk and Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

Ms Vanda, a first-year Yale-NUS College student, said they are not calling for a boycott of the companies’ products as “it would not be meaningful”. Instead, they want to raise awareness among companies that palm oil from unsustainable sources can contribute to deforestation and haze in the region, which reached record levels in 2015.

The pair have emailed and called the two companies and paid a visit to Old Chang Kee’s headquarters.

Old Chang Kee’s marketing communications manager Ng Bee Lin told TODAY the company uses oil that has been endorsed as a healthier option by the Health Promotion Board, and is looking into sourcing oil that is Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-certified. “Despite the many challenges and limitations, our promise to consumers is that we will continue to source for healthier and socially responsible cooking oil, without compromising on the food quality and taste,” she said.

A Polar Puffs spokesperson said vegetable oil accounts for less than 0.6 per cent of its ingredients because its products are butter-baked and not oil-fried. The use of vegetable oil is “incidental”, while the butter it uses is from New Zealand. “We also wish to assure our customers that our vegetable oils currently used are from sustainable sources,” the spokesperson said.

Non-governmental group, the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), is supportive of the duo’s cause. PM.Haze runs its own #GoHazeFree campaign and co-founder Tan Yi Han said it has reached out to eateries to get them to use certified-sustainable palm oil. Burger joint VeganBurg has come on board.

Local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice announced last year that its FairPrice Premium Cooking Oil and FairPrice Vegetable Oil is from RSPO-certified sources.

Meanwhile, Ms Vanda and Gauri, a student at the United World College of Southeast Asia’s Dover campus, are also promoting environmental consciousness in other ways. Ms Vanda runs a blog while Gauri visited the forests of Sumatra in 2015 after winning an environmental competition.