Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet, found in many packaged products sold in the supermarket. It is used in a range of different processed foods, from sweets to ready meals, where it improves shelf life and texture. It is also found in skincare, haircare and make-up products. While palm oil is the most efficient source of vegetable oil, its rapid expansion and overproduction threaten some of the planet’s most important and sensitive habitats. This fact transforms it into one of the most yielding and destructive crops in the world.
1. What is Palm Oil
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. This fruits name is Elaeis guineensis.
With this fruit two types of oil can be produced:
- Crude palm oil: comes from squeezing the fresh fruit.
- Palm kernel oil: comes from crushing the kernel, or the stone in the middle of the fruit.
2. Palm Oil Characteristics
This Palm oil is so versatile:
- It can handle heat without spoiling.
- Blends well with other oils.
- It’s semi-solid at room temperature which is useful for spreads.
- It’s odourless and colourless, so it doesn’t interfere with food products.
- It’s resistant to oxidation, so products that contain palm oil benefit from a longer shelf life.
3. The problematic of Palm Oil
Palm oil grows in tropical rainforests, and the uncontrolled clearing of these forests for conventional palm oil plantations has led to widespread loss of these irreplaceable and biodiverse-rich forests.
“Plantations have also been connected to the destruction of habitat of many endangered species like the Orangutan, Pygmy Elephant and Sumatran Rhino. This forest loss coupled with conversion of carbon rich peat solids are throwing out millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. There also remains some exploitation of workers and child labour.”
One of the ways in which we can help prevent this is by avoiding the purchase of products that contain palm oil, but, I know, it can sometimes be hard to spot.
Studies say that around 3 billion people use palm oil products every single day, and very often without even realizing it.
Many products that use palm oil aren’t clearly labeled. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under hundreds of pseudonyms and people may not always recognize it in the ingredients list at a first look.
4. Other terms for Palm Oil
If you find and read any of those names in the Ingredients list, you know that the product 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, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.|
5. Why we shouldn’t stop using products containing Palm Oil
Palm Oil has become so ingrained into our daily lives, it would be nearly impossible to give it up completely anyway.
Completely avoiding palm oil could have worse effects than consuming it because it might take the support away from companies that are trying hard to improve the situation. This could encourage companies to use other products that may have even a worse impact on the environment.
Palm oil is by far the most efficient vegetable oil to grow as it takes less land to produce than other vegetable oils. Other vegetable oils, such as soy, sunflower and coconut oil, are much less efficient to grow than palm oil, with crop yields up to ten times lower. Satisfying the current demand with less space-efficient crops would mean damaging even more land.
Apart from that, with billions of people relying on its production, palm oil is going to stay. The livelihoods of hundreds of small-hold farmers rely on producing it. Malaysia and Indonesia supply 85% of global palm oil, and it is a lifeline for these emerging economies.
So, we can’t break up with Palm oil, but we can take steps to monitor its production.
Palm oil can be produced responsibly and fairly, respecting the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown. The transparency and education in the supply chain can also be improved. And last, but not least, society can start reducing the consumption of Palm Oil containing products, transforming its explosion consumption into a sustainable and conscious one.
6. The RSPO
The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 in response to increasing concerns about the impacts palm oil was having on the environment. The RSPO has a production standard that sets best practices for producing and sourcing palm oil.
The RSPO label gives the buyer the confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
7. Palm done right
Palm Done Right is a network of brands, manufacturers, retailers, brokers, distributors, farmers… committed to sustainable palm oil.
They only source and produce organic, deforestation-free, fair and social, wildlife-friendly palm oil, that cares about working conditions and social equality.
Unfortunately, less than 7% of the total production of palm oil is certified as sustainable, as most companies refuse to pay the premium associated with less-destructive farming practices.