Paterson Arran has led by example, reducing its use of palm oil. It's one of a band of independents that put the rest of the industry to shame

Being someone who brings a sceptical eye to the mechanics of the food industry, and is alert to corporate greenwashing and PR spin, it comes as a pleasant surprise to find companies that go beyond the call of duty or commercial self-interest and grapple intelligently with the big ethical issues of the day.

A case in point is the oatcake, shortbread and biscuit manufacturer Paterson Arran. This independent company, though not a giant in its field, has faced head on what better-sourced companies have ducked.

One in 10 of the processed products on our shelves contains palm oil, usually sourced from Indonesia or Malaysia, which is known to be linked to massive rainforest deforestation and the destruction of habitats for endangered species such as the orang utan and the Sumatran tiger. It is also responsible for wholesale human rights abuses as indigenous people are forced off their land to make way for profitable oil palm plantations.

In 2002 Paterson Arran, aware of the issues surrounding palm oil, switched from palm oil to olive oil in its oatcakes recipe and has since been gradually reformulating its entire range.

By 2008 it will either have eliminated the ingredient entirely, or switched to sustainably sourced oil that is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm.

This Roundtable was set up by Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups in 2005. They have mounted an effective campaign, which embarrasses retailers such as Tesco over their inability to tell where their palm oil is coming from, forcing major manufacturers and retailers to sign up to the scheme.

As is so often the case, it's the smaller, independent companies that put the rest of the industry to shame, investing cash and effort in doing the ethical thing and often triggering the conscience of the industry as a whole.

Other examples include Equal Exchange, which is still the only Fairtrade tea and coffee company that has its products packed in the country of origin, leaving more value in producer countries. Why aren't bigger Fairtrade companies following suit?

Then there's Baby Organix, the infant food manufacturer whose sincere efforts to give babies the best food has pushed the babyfood industry to pull up its boot straps.

Thank goodness for pioneering companies such as these. It is their dynamism that fuels progress.n

Joanna Blythman is the

author of Bad Food Britain