Palm oil on the label

The number of words that you will find on products at the supermarket instead of ‘palm oil’ is astounding.

  • Anything containing the words “Palmitate” or “Palmate”
  • Elaeis guineensis
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Hexadecanoic or Palmitic Acid
  • Vegetable oil
  • “stearate, stearyl”
  • Anything containing the words “cetyl, cetearyl”
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
  • Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate
  • Steareth -2 and Steareth -20
  • Emulsifier 422, 430-436, 465-467, 470-478, 481-483, 493-495, 570

If you don’t think you’re quite up to committing all of those to memory you’re a bit stuck at the moment because this Government is not going to consider mandatory labelling of palm oil.

The tearing up of rainforests that comes hand in hand with palm oil is just devastating. Rainforests’ importance to the world can’t be overstated and yet we are seeing palm oil being used in everything from biscuits to soap.

I asked the Minister about his views on mandatory palm oil labelling. He said:

“I have considered this issue but do not consider mandatory palm oil labelling is the best approach to concerns about palm oil. Labelling would not state how palm oil is produced and therefore would not provide sufficient information to allow consumers to choose between sustainably and non-sustainably produced palm oil. In addition, the intent of information on consumer food labels is to inform people of safety information and the nutritional content of food. Finally, I believe consumer pressure is often the most effective way of persuading businesses to behave in an appropriate manner.”

The Minister’s point about consumers needing more information to choose between unsustainable and sustainable sources is a complete red herring as there is nothing to stop responsible businesses who use sustainably-produced palm oil from declaring that information on their labels, provided they have independent certification to that effect.

Quite how the Minister thinks that consumers will be able to put pressure on businesses when there is no requirement for upfront labelling I don’t know, unless he expects us all to become full time detectives for every item on our supermarket shelves.

That’s why we are supporting the Unmask Palm Oil campaign to put in place mandatory labelling of this ingredient. You can sign the petition on their website and I am looking forward to this petition arriving at Parliament later this year.

In the meantime, to avoid destructive palm oil in the products you buy look for the ones on the Auckland Zoo’s palm oil free shopping guide.

39 thoughts on “Palm oil on the label

  1. Since my supermarket failed to defend me from agitated milk, I am on a gradual journey of trusting them less and less. I will add this (shopping under time pressure with bad information) to my collection of reasons for doing so.

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  2. The tearing up of rainforests that comes hand in hand with palm oil is just devastating. Rainforests’ importance to the world can’t be overstated and yet we are seeing palm oil being used in everything from biscuits to soap.

    Remind me how we got all this farmland in New Zealand? Those organic farms – they used to be covered in forest, yes? It’s alright for us to earn a living from clearing forest, but not them?

    If we want these people to keep forest, then we need to buy it and gift it back as a national park, not tell them they can’t earn a living.

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  3. I have the right to buy/not buy any (legal) product I like Arana. But to make an informed choice I need information. Plain simple information. If a product contains Palm oil do you object to having “Palm Oil” listed as an ingredient? If so Why?

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  4. If the manufacturer wants to list it in response to consumer demand, fine. A manufacturer shouldn’t be compelled to list everything YOU might demand, however.

    If it matters to you, you seek out the suppliers of those who do make a distinction. If enough people match your buying patterns, then more manufacturers will get on board, else they’ll lose market share.

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  5. Arana said:
    If we want these people to keep forest, then we need to buy it and gift it back as a national park, not tell them they can’t earn a living.

    “These people” are mostly not the ones making a living from destroying rainforest – and yes, it would be great if their governments acquired forest in order to let it grow. That would benefit the whole world, not just “these people”.

    Meanwhile, by supporting the demand for products with palm oil in them, we are not helping “these people” but multinational companies whose only concern is their profits, not their effects on the local or global environment.

    I really don’t know why you come in here actually – you have no empathy with Green perspectives or vision. And seemingly almost no understanding of the issues behind the topics being discussed – or are you genuinely trying to find out more about these things?

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  6. Janine,

    Meanwhile, by supporting the demand for products with palm oil in them, we are not helping “these people” but multinational companies whose only concern is their profits, not their effects on the local or global environment.

    There was a similar argument here,

    http://blog.greens.org.nz/2013/01/25/the-fracking-boom-is-here/

    Substitute fracking derived fuel oil with palm oil and we find that the Greens will continue to “support multinational companies whose only concern is their profits, not their effect on the local or global environment”.

    Why else will the Greens keep using fracking derived fuel oil?

    As for

    I really don’t know why you come in here actually – you have no empathy with Green perspectives or vision. And seemingly almost no understanding of the issues behind the topics being discussed – or are you genuinely trying to find out more about these things?

    People can have green visions and perspectives that are not clouded by and in Green party policy.

    Surely you would be interested “to find out about those things” to gain an understanding of green issues from alternative perspectives?

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  7. People can have green visions and perspectives that are not clouded by and in Green party policy.

    Quite right Gerrit.

    It’s just that Arana fairly consistently fails to demonstrate any vision or alternative position.

    In the absence of a logical, defensible counter-factual there is frequently little discussion beyond “I’m right, you’re wrong, because I say so.”

    Arana approach seems to be a sort of ‘redbaiting-lite’ approach, liberally sprinkled with logical fallacies.

    Genuinely humourous ribbing sometimes but essentially pointless.

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  8. Yes, Gerrit, but this is a Green party blog so you should expect to encounter green views on issues. Debating the issues is fine – you and others do – but Arana doesn’t seem interested in debate, just empty point-scoring. Gets irritating after a while.

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  9. Labelling is not for political purposes, it’s for safety. That is pretty clear, isn’t it?

    If YOU want to avoid certain products, for political reasons, then YOU do the research. If there are enough of you, manufacturers will shout it from the rooftops.

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  10. I did go to the trouble of looking into palm oil because we have a confectionery shop and like to support environmentally aware companies and their products. I contacted all of the manufacturers of the chocolate products we sell to see where they stood on using palm oil. All of them responded; with pretty much this: ‘We are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and purchase palm oil from suppliers that are members of RSPO. RSPO is a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from several sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, and environmental NGOs to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil’. Whilst I’m still am not happy about the use of palm oil, mostly because of the orang-utan’s habitat being destroyed and feeding it to stock, at least there is the RSPO (you can google it) and from what I can gather most reputable companies use sustainable palm oil. I may be wrong here but as far as I researched it, Whitakers are the only local company who don’t use it in their chocolate products and why would you??? But not every company is reputable or can be trusted, otherwise why would they hide behind these other names – we do need labelling to be clearer for people to make informed choices. BTW I have yet to have a customer yet who has even asked about palm oil and when I’ve fronted with the info they’ve just look blankly at me….like what am I on about?

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  11. Labeling can be required for whatever purposes the society deems necessary.

    In the past, safe-to-consume was the only purpose that rose to the level of requiring government action to FORCE (and that was what happened, it was never consumer driven) companies to label their contents adequately to that purpose.

    Now we have added environmental and sustainability concerns that are important to us and again, it is impossible for individual consumers to persuade multinational companies to tell us what we are actually consuming in their manufactured food products.

    Sustainability isn’t a “political” reason Arana. Only in your distorted world view is that sort of ideation even possible.

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  12. Labeling can be required for whatever purposes the society deems necessary.

    That’s the point. Society doesn’t deem it necessary. A tiny percentage of the population demands it.

    Just because a tiny percentage of the population might demand the religious affiliation of people who made the product listed, or their race, it doesn’t mean we do it. It adds to the cost for all, to satisfy the ideological demands of the few. If you get enough consumers demanding that information, manufacturers will respond. Your problem is very few people care about it, which is why you want to use force.

    Sustainability isn’t a “political” reason Arana. Only in your distorted world view is that sort of ideation even possible.

    Of course it is. Only in your distorted world view is the sort of ideation that leads you to make that statement even possible.

    “Sustainability” is a politically loaded term. It’s typically used by environmentalists to prevent development.

    You might want to consider the role of substitution through human history.

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  13. Arana – “It’s alright for us to earn a living from clearing forest, but not them?”

    Bzzzzt! Wrong again.

    Those rainforests were once occupied by indigenous people who did not need jobs to make a living – they lived off the the land. Then along came the multinationals who offered large sums of money to the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. Soon after they set about destroying the rainforest even though a number of indigenous tribes lived there. These people have now been displaced.

    Your comment is a nice little piece of fiction, but is nothing like reality. With the advent of google there really isn’t any excuse for such wilful ignorance.

    Aside from such ethical considerations, there is another reason to boycott palm oil – global warming. Clearing the high carbon-density rainforest and replacing it with low carbon-density palm oil plantations represents a additional flux of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Also, these plantations were not supposed to be grown on wetlands, because wetlands being low in dissolved oxygen lock up a great deal of carbon. Drying allows the organic material to be accessed by oxygen-dependent microbial decomposers, and therefore greatly adds to the CO2 flux to the atmosphere. This scientific advice has been ignored, and many palm oil plantations do indeed exist on former wetlands.

    Labelling palm oil will enable consumers to make a choice. By rejecting palm oil containing products they can send a message to these environmental destroyers.

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  14. they lived off the the land. Then along came the multinationals who offered large sums of money to the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. Soon after they set about destroying the rainforest even though a number of indigenous tribes lived there. These people have now been displaced.

    Like Maori in New Zealand, you mean?

    I hope you don’t buy any New Zealand made products on that basis.

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  15. It wasn’t, Rob. Nice to see you’re still avoiding my point.

    We destroyed almost all of our native forest in order to run sheep and cows in order than we have a first-world lifestyle. Now you’re denying that country the same opportunity. Nice.

    The fact that poor people or rich people are producing palm oil is a red herring. You’re against it on environmental grounds, no matter who produces it.

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  16. Ah, the irony. Your original comment was simply made up. You have conducted no research into this topic. On the other hand I have.

    You keep trying to avoid responding to that by pointing to the Goodyear blimp. A tired old rhetorical debating tactic.

    Just admit it. You haven’t actually researched the background of palm oil-related deforestation have you?

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  17. I haven’t made up anything, Rob, and you’re still ignoring my point.

    If you want to dictate to another country what it should use its land for, then you had better look in your own backyard first, lest you get accused of hypocrisy.

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  18. I haven’t made up anything, Rob, and you’re still ignoring my point.

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  19. No worries Greenfly. You just have to realize you’re dealing with an ideologue who is immune to learning. As I said before, I only rebut these climate-related myths for the benefit of rational readers. The laws of physics will impose themselves and no amount of climate science denial is going to stop that.

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  20. Yes, Rob. I knew from the outset what I was dealing with and while it was amusing to wrestle in their mud, the novelty wore off and now I’m watching to see how resiliant each of you is. Your approach is a very good one though, and I’ve adopted it in some of my other ventures, but here I fear you too will tire of the witless chatter. Bj occasionally lets rip in a very satisfying-to-see way, but you are made from very stern stuff indeed, and keep your cool no matter how beligerent and/or dim the nay-sayer.

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  21. Get a room, lads.

    there is nothing to stop responsible businesses who use sustainably-produced palm oil from declaring that information on their labels

    Quite right. Nothing at all. If they think they’ll sell more by doing so, they’ll do it.

    No force required.

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  22. No worries Greenfly. You just have to realize you’re dealing with an ideologue who is immune to learning.

    Best hope no one decides agricultural products produced on ex-native forestland – where the colonialists killed or chased off the natives – is unethical and should be boycotted, huh.

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  23. That’s the point. Society doesn’t deem it necessary.

    Care to make a small wager? If there were a referendum on the question of clearly labeling the content as Palm Oil or NOT Palm Oil, or on the question of labeling country of origin, I think that there’d be a lot more people than just the Greens who want that information on the labels.

    YOU don’t want it Arana. I really doubt that you’d even be in the majority on either of those. Your faithful adherence to an ideology so broken that it has never been implemented long enough to make a mark on history, is well understood. The fact that that ideology is BASED on everyone having complete information on which to act however, is ignored.

    Just because a tiny percentage of the population might demand the religious affiliation of people who made the product listed, or their race, it doesn’t mean we do it.

    What does religion or race have to do with this? That’s not at issue though the fact is that we DO do it, for both kosher foods and for halal meat products we export.

    If you get enough consumers demanding that information, manufacturers will respond.

    Bullshit again Arana? Haven’t you learned yet that we aren’t in the shit business? Explain the mechanism by which this information is “demanded”? Go ahead. I want to see how you think the information that is already required on the labels got to be there. It never EVER occurs to you that in a representative democracy the government IS the voice of the people and the appropriate entity to talk to a multinational corporation.

    “Sustainability” is a politically loaded term. It’s typically used by environmentalists to prevent development.

    Sustainability has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.

    Environmentalists do typically attempt to prevent “development” but this is not “political”. Almost all “development” now IS unsustainable… we passed the carrying capacity of the planet 3 billion people ago.

    Your implication is that we oppose the destruction of the planet we hand to our children out of some spiteful dislike of developers. For some reason you do not understand. Which apparently is true – that you don’t understand it, but lets make it clear –

    “WE DO NOT INHERIT THE EARTH FROM OUR ANCESTORS, WE BORROW IT FROM OUR
    CHILDREN” – another bit of wisdom from the American Indians

    That isn’t a “political” point we are trying to score mate. It has nothing to do with “politics” but a lot to do with the difference between Greens and National. We take a MUCH longer view than the quarterly profit-loss balance or the next election.

    So if “sustainability” is politically loaded for you, that says a hell of a lot more about YOUR politics than about Greens.

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  24. I think that there’d be a lot more people than just the Greens who want that information on the labels.

    If you ran a campaign featuring cute monkeys up a tree, you’d get one result.

    If you asked people if they would like to pay higher prices for one product over another, you’d get a different answer.

    As you know, it all depends how the question is asked. The fact most people aren’t demanding it now – by voting with their wallets (i.e. boycotting) suggests to me it’s a non-issue for most.

    YOU don’t want it Arana.

    I don’t want to pay increased prices for something I don’t value. If you want to, that’s fine. I have no objection to you spending more money with one producer, but not another.

    The fact that that ideology is BASED on everyone having complete information

    No, it isn’t. My ideology is not based on “complete information”. There is no such thing. The question is do we have enough information to make a decision. That is rather subjective.

    Fringe groups could demand all sorts of information be tracked and printed, but I’m sure you’ll agree, we shouldn’t print information just because a fringe group wants it, as this would impose costs on all.

    Haven’t you learned yet that we aren’t in the shit business?

    Must….resist….joke…… :)

    Explain the mechanism by which this information is “demanded”? Go ahead.

    Certainly. If a manufacturer thinks he’ll gain competitive advantage by printing “no palm oil” all over the label, he’ll do it. He’ll supply in response to consumer demand. They currently do it with “no added salt”, “no added sugar”, and all the overpriced “bio nature” lines, even though their is no force involved.

    Sustainability has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.

    Yes, it is. You’ve just articulated it. Your position is “there are too many people”. That’s a Club Of Rome position, carried forward.

    The history of human development has been more about substitution than “sustainability”. As “non-sustainable” raw materials run low, we switch.

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  25. I see. So the observation that the human population is in overshoot is a POLITICAL issue for you? Your divergence is worse than I thought.

    As for a manufacturer doing anything that changes his status quo, not very likely to work for getting the information on the label in the first place.

    Those who put “product of New Zealand” on their labels are getting sales they would not otherwise get. That level works. Getting the contents on the jar in the first place? No, that has always been the province of the government…

    http://blog.fooducate.com/2008/10/25/1862-2008-a-brief-history-of-food-and-nutrition-labeling/

    You think it will happen voluntarily and that belief of yours is on a par with Marxist belief that the state will “whither away and die” as communism finally triumphs. This is a fantasy, inhabiting your mind, but never seen in reality. The advantages go to the manufacturer of cheap and nasty.

    The question is do we have enough information to make a decision.

    That at least is a sensible statement… but my take on your positions is neo-libertarian, and you are mistaken about what that position requires in order to work. You aren’t wrong about what is available, incomplete information is something we live with…. but you mistake greatly what libertarianism needs to work. Never mind. Lets work with the parts we agreed on.

    The question is do we have enough information to make a decision.

    Which you reckon to be subjective, and I think that this is also correct.

    The problem is whether there is a need for clarity. The first question here is simple semantics. There are 14 separate terms meaning “this product contains Palm Oil” and not one of them says “Palm Oil”. If they all say (palm oil) next to what they already say, that’s ALL that is required. Worst case is 11 characters added. You seem to think this is going to cost a lot. With the current state of digital printing tech you’d be hard pressed to support that position.

    Once people actually can work out there is actually palm oil in a product the “sustainably produced” portion of the label is indeed a voluntary addition.

    But getting making the knowledge available in the first place?

    The problem isn’t that “Palm Oil is Evil”… it is simply that it is hidden. One has to know a great deal more about food production and organic chemistry than I do, to work out whether a product contains something made from Palm Oil. The person making the label however. only has to do it once.

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  26. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate” might be Palm Oil, or it might be coconut oil. I imagine a lot of these suppliers swap supply in and out depending on the production run. Demanding they distinguish would push up prices. Practically, they’d need to limit purchasing to coconut oil, or Palm Oil, else they’d be rebelling too often.

    I understand why you want “Palm Oil” written on a label, but I object to it for the same reason some fringe group might demand “Made By Christians” be clearly written on the label.

    If everyone got every piece of information THEY demand, by state decree, costs would go through the roof.

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  27. Meanwhile, the manufacturers who want to cater to the “No Palm Oil! No Way!” demographic can make this fact explicit on their packaging as a form of product differentiation.

    Everyone’s happy.

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  28. And here’s a helpful guide:

    aucklandzoo.co.nz/media/701178/palm_oil_free_shopping_list.pdf

    So those who want to find out can do so. If they’re too lazy to look up an internet site, then that suggests to me they’re not serious about the issue.

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  29. Demanding they distinguish would push up prices.

    As well as giving them an incentive to control what they actually do.

    The key bit here is that you don’t think there is a problem, and that if there were the market would solve it.

    Yet “market failures” are the rule rather than the exception with our capitalism as distorted as it is. The market doesn’t work the way you expect it to, or economists theorize… which is in many ways, the reason that there is still a “global financial crisis” stalking the planet.

    Be that as it may, the expectation that this gets done by individuals and through the market, will be disappointed. Under no circumstances will the manufacturers voluntarily provide information.

    I thank you for the link to the Auckland Zoo list, as THAT is helpful… but it is a lot more trouble for people to make and watch that list than for manufacturers to actually put the information on their labels.

    So the rainforests get destroyed.

    Which isn’t a problem for you. Just for our kids.

    The destruction of the rainforests is the free market WORKING for us… yeah right!

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  30. There is no genetically modified palm oil. Lots of `vegetable oil’ contains soy, canola, maize and cotton-seed oil, all of which can be GM. If anyone wants to avoid GM vegetable oil, then pure palm oil is the thing.

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  31. So the rainforests get destroyed.

    There you go – your demand for Palm Oil labeling is due to a political stance.

    If we legislate all food labeling based on fringe political stances, as opposed to safety, the costs to the consumer will go through the roof. The labels will never be big enough, or the fine print too small.

    If a producer thinks there are enough “No Way Palm Oil!” consumers, they’ll make a point of labeling that fact to gain competitive advantage over those producers who do include Palm Oil.

    The reality is there simply aren’t enough of you. That is why you feel the need to use state force.

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  32. “Study Shows Rainforest Protections Would Net $200 Billion for US Soy, Beef, Timber and Oilseed Producers”
    “The report, entitled “Farms Here, Forests There: Tropical Deforestation and U.S. Competitiveness in Agriculture and Timber,” was authored by Shari Friedman of David Gardiner & Associates on behalf of the National Farmers Union and Avoided Deforestation Partners. It is available at http://www.adpartners.org/agriculture
    This is agricultural protectionism at the expense of agriculture in countries with tropical forest. The message is clear: “We grow the crops, you conserve the monkeys”. Palm oil now competes with soy oil exports from the USA. Lots of cash available if anyone wants to furiously attack palm oil production. If the cap fits, wear it.

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  33. Should milk companies state on label whether the cows have ben fed PKE (palm kernel extract)?

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  34. Should milk companies state on label whether the cows have ben fed PKE (palm kernel extract)?

    YES but if you buy organic milk you won’t have to worry.

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  35. “I have considered this issue but my party’s business contacts do not consider mandatory palm oil labelling is the best approach to concerns about palm oil. The best approach to concerns about something is not to be concerned about it. Labelling should not state palm oil or how it is produced and therefore should not provide sufficient information to allow consumers to choose between sustainably and non-sustainably produced palm oil or none. In addition, I haven’t bumped my head, but I think the intent of information on consumer food labels is to inform people of safety information and the nutritional content of food, i.e. labels “SAFE TO EAT: XXX calories” can be sufficient. Finally, I believe consumer pressure is often the most effective way of persuading businesses to behave in an appropriate manner, that’s why covering up ingredients to avoid such pressure is the most effective way to behave inapproriately and make money.”

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