Palm oil comes from African palm trees that grow in tropical rainforests, and are farmed to produce high quantities of oil. It’s a type of vegetable oil - similar to sunflower - that you’ll likely find in a high number of products in your kitchen. It's versatility and low cost makes it the most commonly used vegetable oil. You can find palm oil in household items from convenience foods to even lipstick and cleaning products.
In recent years, this popular ingredient has gained a lot of bad press due to the destruction its causing to the planet. Unsustainable palm oil farming has brought species to the brink of extinction and is responsible for unbelievable amounts of deforestation. It's not like there aren't alternatives for us to use - there are plenty. So why are we continuing to farm palm oil so intensively?
As I said before, it's cheap and versatile, so getting rid of palm oil is no easy task. It's a super efficient crop and about half of the world's population relies on it - and the demand is rising. As individuals, we can show the food industries that we want palm oil to be farmed more sustainably, or we don’t want it at all.
The palm oil industry is responsible for deforestation on a huge scale and this actually plays a predominant part in how humans are contributing to climate change. Indonesia is the largest palm oil producer in the world, and just to give you a sense of how much they produce: half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from cutting or burning forests.
With deforestation comes the destruction of habitats and the loss of precious life. In order to make way for palm oil plantations, the tropical forests that support so much wildlife are destroyed, thus threatening the planet’s biodiversity. You have likely seen or heard the campaigns spreading awareness of how orangutans are negatively impacted by palm oil. Every year it is estimated that between 1,000 to 5,000 orangutans are killed in palm oil concessions, and if this continues, they will be extinct within our lifetime. Other animals that are affected by this industry include tigers, elephants, and rhinos, all of which are considered either endangered or vulnerable.
Human rights violations are also a common occurrence in this industry. There are instances of child labour, violence, and employees working in terrible conditions; and despite this being common knowledge, not much is being done to improve it.
From a consumer point of view, palm oil is truly not worth the purchase. The industry has caused extensive destruction and ruined lives along with it.
Understandably, it’s a tricky ingredient to completely avoid, but there are a few things that you can do to help decrease the demand and encourage corporations to find more sustainable alternatives.