Palm Oil is probably one of the most, if not the most, contested issue within the vegan community and is commonly bought up in the ethical living movement more widely.
I’ve been hearing for years now about the effects of palm oil and how it’s bad for orangutans etc etc. But I decided to do my own research into the effects it has and make my own decisions on whether to boycott it or not. So, what is palm oil? It’s an oil (obviously) made from the fruits of African oil palm trees. The biggest producers of palm oil are Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is one of the most efficient oils, and you can get large quantities in relatively small space. However this comes at a detriment to the environment, animals and people.
Palm oil plantations need to be in rainforest areas, so rainforests are burnt down in order to have new plantations for this in-demand oil. However many 1000s of species live within rainforests and their homes and habitats are destroyed by the demand for palm oil. Orangutans are some of the most effected animals, they are critically endangered. In the back of my head I knew about this, but when you look at images and videos of orangutans you realise just how amazing they are, and how horrific the very real fact is that they are facing extinction. See a video here about the orangutans and palm oil.
But it’s not just orangutans that are facing extinction due to the production of palm oil. These animals are also at high risk: Not only do animals face these issues as a result of palm oil plantations, humans do to. Indigenous self-sustaining populations often live within these rainforest areas. So when the forest is destroyed, their homes and everything they life off is destroyed too. As a result, they often have no choice but to work for the palm oil industry in order to get by. They are normally exploited and paid a low wage for long hours of manual labour. There have also been some reports of child labour being used in the industry.
The environment suffers greatly as a result of palm oil production. The mass forest burning in order to clear space for plantations releases toxic emissions which add to global warming, and make Indonesia one of the top polluting countries in the world. As mentioned earlier, orangutans are critically endangered, but they are an essential part of the ecosystem. In Indonesia many of the rainforest seeds can only germinate once they have passed through the gut of an orangutan, so without them around, it will be very difficult for any rainforest to be maintained.
So maybe you’re thinking, palm oil sounds bad but I’ve heard about sustainable palm oil and that must be better. However, it sadly appears that sustainable palm oil is a mere marketing gimmick. With no real regulations on the usage of the term, producers can stick it on their packaging in the hopes that environmentally conscious people will purchase. But ultimately, palm oil plantations have to be on rainforest land, and destroying this is inherently bad. Other types of oil crops, despite producing lower amounts but using more space, can be grown in any area; which could be far less destructive. Watch this video to find out more about the myth of sustainable palm oil.
So, from my own research I’ve decided that palm oil is something I want to make a real effort to steer clear of. But a big problem is – it’s in a lot of things. Not just food, but makeup, cleaning products, personal hygiene products and more.
In fact, palm oil is used heavily in the production of biofuel in the EU. Biofuel is supposed to be an eco-friendly alternative to fuel types like petrol. But when a large percentage of it palm oil, it couldn’t be further from eco-friendly.
The good news is, food companies are starting to realise that consumers aren’t happy about palm oil, and many are getting rid of it. Supermarket Iceland said earlier this year that their own brand products will be palm oil free – fantastic news!
As for all the other products, I think it’s a long road to find alternatives. Makeup and cleaning products are much less clearly labelled than foods, but nonetheless I am determined to make a start! I hope to write a blog post soon about palm oil free alternatives, once I’ve discovered some more! But for now, I hope this post has given you an insight into palm oil, and maybe even encouraged you to cut it down.
Finally, this is a great video that sums up all the points I’ve made and more.