Palm oil production - raising awareness
With an increasing demand, the Palm oil industry has grown exponentially in recent years, the the production of 66 million tons annually making it the most commonly produced vegetable oil.
Palm oil comes from the fruit of palm oil trees. Oil palms are grown in many tropical countries, the main producers being Indonesia and Malaysia. It is cheap, versatile and has a long shelf-life, making it a popular product in many consumer industries.
But palm oil production comes at a great cost. To obtain the product, oil palms have been cut down at a devastating rate, and research by Rainforest Rescue suggests that the equivalent of 300 football fields are being destroyed every hour. This means palm oil production is destroying the habitats of animals and encroaching on local communities who are being forced to give up their land. The Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino are already endangered species, and palm oil production is increasing their chances of extinction.
This not only has an affect on wildlife and communities, but extends to a wider environmental cost to the planet: deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, which means greenhouse gas emissions are increasing whilst less carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere.
Because oil palm plantations need dry land, the land becomes highly flammable, meaning there is a further risk to the environment in light of the possibility of wildfires. The combination of increasing carbon dioxide and the increase in thick smoke as a result of wildfires means the risk to human health is growing in places which produce palm oil.
Nestlé, Unilever and Mars are amongst the corporations who use dirty palm oil in their products. Unfortunately, there are more than 170 different names that manufacturers use on their packaging to avoid saying the words 'palm oil', so it is not always easy to identify whether a product contains it. Below is an list of just some of the everyday products that contain palm oil:
Peanut butter: Skippy
Ice cream: Wall’s Soft Scoop
Chocolate: Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Maltesers
Margarine: Flora Buttery Spread
Snacks: Twiglets, Ritz Crackers
Cookies and biscuits: Maryland Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oreos
Bread: Sainsbury’s Garlic Bread Slices
Instant noodles: Batchelors Super Noodles
Pizza bases and pizza base mix: Tesco’s own
Shampoo: Head & Shoulders
Soap: Dove Original
Lipstick: Max Factor Colour Elixir
What can you do?
To make a noticeable change to the production of palm oil, we need to be aware of when we are using products that contain it, which will allow us to make an informed decision as to whether we want to buy and use the product.
Check the packet before you put it in your trolley, and consider choosing another brand that doesn't use palm oil. Choose products that advertise they contain different oils, such as sunflower oil, corn oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil. Public pressure and the risk of bad press will prompt and have already prompted producers to stop using palm oil. By avoiding supporting brands that use palm oil, there will be a rise in accountability amongst organisations and a broader consideration of the fact that production of the oil is destructive and unnecessary.
There is also a sustainable alternative that means palm oil production is not as damaging as it is currently. The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil was formed in 2004 in response to increasing concerns about the impact of palm oil production, and encourage companies to be transparent in their use and sourcing of palm oil.
Websites for further reading: