Zoo man cautiously optimistic about palm oil victory
Published: 4th Dec 2014“I’ve been grumbling about palm oil for 21 years,” says Tony Stokes. “People are so tired of it they’re doing something just to shut me up!”On 13th…
“I’ve been grumbling about palm oil for 21 years,” says Tony Stokes. “People are so tired of it they’re doing something just to shut me up!”On 13th December, new labelling laws come into place forcing manufacturers to state whether products contain palm oil. It may seem like a small matter, but for South Devon environmental crusader Tony it’s one more step on the way to changing the world.
Tony, head of Paignton Zoo’s trading arm, has been campaigning against palm oil for more than two decades. Palm oil is a super-useful product that’s in everything from shampoo to pizza – but its production is destroying vital rainforest habitat that’s home to orang utans, tigers and thousands of other species.
Born in Paignton and educated in Totnes, Tony followed a successful career in high street retail management before bringing all of that expertise to Paignton Zoo in 1993. “I’ve been plugging away about palm oil for years,” he says. “You spread the word and you educate, even when you feel like you are the only person in the world who cares. And then you find that first one zoo and then another has taken up the cause. You find that you are influencing decision-makers, putting pressure on key people.
“The organisations that represent top zoos in Britain and Europe - BIAZA, the British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria – have done a huge amount of lobbying on this matter.”
Simon Tonge, the Executive Director of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, the charity which runs Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, is Chairman of EAZA. Simon: “This is a moral victory, a move in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before orang utans, tigers and so many other species are safe.”
Tony again: “Advocacy is one of this charity’s key principles, and palm oil is our flagship campaign. We now have the UK Food Information Regulations 2014. I’m cautiously optimistic - this means that the public can make informed choices about what they buy.”
Perhaps no one man can change the world – but anyone can make a difference. Tony has persistence and a passion for the subject of palm oil, he has a team of like-minded people around him and together they have motivated, cajoled and persuaded businesses, charities and politicians. It’s amazing where a bit of grumbling can get you…