COUNCILLORS have refused to back a motion calling for a ban on products containing palm oil.

Stamping out the use of the oil responsible for the destruction of rainforests, was successfully proposed by Independent Councillor, Kerry Smith, in December, allowing for an initial investigation into whether the move would be possible.

The results were discussed on Thursday night by the policy oversight and strategy committee where members voted against a ban but instead to "highlight the benefits" of using sustainable products.

Mr Smith strongly disagreed.

He said: "Powered coffee could have palm oil in it, the stuff I washed my clothes with earlier today could have palm oil in it - it is so endemic in products and I think if as a council we say we are going to start to gradually phase out of palm oil where we can, that is a positive step forward.

“If other local authorities say you know what, we can do what Basildon has done, we can all work together and put some pressure on government because money talks.

“You may not think anything of the animals in the rainforest but if you don’t have the trees there what do we breathe? Humans need the rainforest to survive.

"I hope this is something Basildon can be positively known for.”

However Conservative Councillor Andrew Schrader, who oversees economic growth and development, said that while Basildon has an opportunity to “take a lead” on this issue he is opposed to a blanket ban due to the wide use of the product.

He was backed by UKIP Councillor Gary Canham, who said that instead the council should be given an “ethical choice”.

The committee agreed that rather than eliminating the product from council use, they would “seek to use” products that have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - a body committed to sustainable palm oil products - and “highlight the benefits” to staff and contractors.

Mr Smith added: “I would like you to go a lot further, but half a loaf is always better than none.

"It’s a step forward and sends a message out that this council on the issue of palm oil and I hope everything else, cannot be bought by big business and will defend the ethics and integrity of our tax payers by buying the most ethical products as possible.”

The politics behind palm oil

Throughout the meeting, Mr Smith emphasised the need to pressure the Government on the issue of palm oil and said he hoped that local authorities could inspire further action.

An investigation by Greenpeace in 2018 found that the British Government has been reluctant to take a stance on the issue with officials warning an ethical stance could harm arms sales to Malaysia, as well as post-Brexit trade.

They also found that Malaysia and Indonesia, who account for 85 per cent of the global palm oil supply, had pressured the Government to criticise supermarket chain Iceland for an anti-palm oil advert that was banned in December.

In the private sector, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has praised British retailers for their efforts to use sustainable palm oil products, with brands like Marks and Spencer and Boots leading the way.

The European Union has said it intends to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuels starting in 2023 and eventually moving to a ban in 2030 but Malaysia and Indonesia have warned it could put the livelihood of millions of farmers at risk.

It has also threatened to take retaliatory trade measures.