A research project into the use of palm oil in the UK is being launched by the government.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said UK consumers and industry had “the power to save rainforests” being destroyed to create space for oil palm plantations in south-east Asia.
The programme, with funding of up to £100,000, will also establish how much palm oil is sustainably sourced.
Palm oil is used in products such as food, cosmetics, tyres and biofuels.
Speaking ahead of the first Global Business of Biodiversity symposium in London, Mrs Spelman said the expansion of plantations in south-east Asia was wiping out forests, driving up greenhouse emissions and threatening wildlife such as the orang-utan.
She said the research project would look at how much palm oil was used in the UK, what proportion was sustainably sourced, and what changes could be made to reduce the impact on the environment.
“Consumers and industry have the power to save rainforests and wildlife in areas like south-east Asia.
“In the case of palm oil, we need to know more about our consumption in order to find solutions.
“We’re hoping to get these answers with the project starting next month which will map our use of palm oil.”
She said the government needed to consider its environmental impact at home and abroad.
Malaysia and Indonesia account for around 90% of the world’s supply of palm oil.
World demand is forecast to nearly double from 2000 levels by 2020.
This is mainly due to rising food demand – 80% of palm oil is used for food – but also due to demand for biofuels.
Business leaders are also discussing how to make sustainable palm oil more mainstream.
Currently 4% of the world’s palm oil is certified as sustainable.