Palm Oil Sucks

You probably don’t know it, but you likely consume or use a product containing palm oil everyday. It’s in just about everything: soap, shampoo, detergent, lipstick, bread, cookies, ice cream, margarine, chocolate; the list is nearly endless. Take a look at the ingredients on just about any packaged food or product. If you see any of the following words, it contains palm oil:

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hydrogenated Palm Glycerides, Ethyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

To start with, there’s nothing wrong with palm oil. Consuming palm oil isn't dangerous, but it's high in fat, especially saturated fat, that is responsible for increasing bad cholesterol. However, the dietary effects of palm oil are by far the least scary.

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the African Palm Tree and palm kernel oil is derived from its seed. Palm Oil Trees love high temperatures and wet climates, so they grow in just about any location that has these elements. The majority of the world's palm oil (85%) comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.

WHY DOES IT MATTER THAT THERE’S PALM OIL IN JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING?

To grow palm trees for oil production, farmers burn and clear large patches of tropical rain forest to clear the land. In Indonesia this results in forest fires and destruction that contribute to nearly 60% of the country’s carbon emissions. Indonesia is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China. Additionally, the soil in these rain forests are high in peat, a carbon rich material that just by being exposed to the air increases carbon emissions. The peat rich soil additionally keeps fires burning, sometimes for years after they’ve been set.

If that isn’t enough of a reason to take notice, deforestation is killing native species like orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Bornean rhinos, and pygmy elephants. An estimated 50,000 orangutans have been killed in the past 20 years. To put that into perspective, there’s only 50,000 orangutans still alive in the wild today.

Native human populations are also effected by the palm oil industry. Much of the land being used for palm tree plantations has been illegally seized despite local government’s effort to control it. Human inhabitants are often forced to work as wage slaves on the plantations or set up their own plantations and sell the oil they produce to the larger plantations that have taken over the surrounding area. 

WHY IS THERE SUCH A BIG DEMAND FOR PALM OIL?

It's cheap! As consumers we don't want palm oil, we just want affordable products, and because the palm oil industry often skips out on paying attention to human rights and the environment, it has become cheap to produce. From an environmental point of view, growing palm oil is better than producing most other vegetable oils because more oil can be produced in a smaller amount of space. If only palm oil production could be responsibly managed, acres of untouched rain forest could be spared from further deforestation.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Start by looking for products that use certified sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil. These products use oil that follow guidelines that have been set up by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The RSPO was set up in 2004 with the goal to make sustainable palm oil production the norm. Additionally, don't use products that don't use CSPO or CSPKO and request that companies use sustainable palm oils. 

STILL DON'T FEEL LIKE THAT'S DOING ENOUGH?

If avoiding unethical palm oil doesn't feel proactive enough for you, here are a few actions you can take to make a bigger impact:

Send an email to Herakles, a US palm oil manufacturing company that wants to set up camp in the Cameroon rainforest.

Tell Pepsi Co. you want ethical and sustainable palm oil in their products.

Join the Rainforest Action Network to help put pressure on US snack food companies that use unethical palm oil.