What is Palm Oil and why is it damaging?
What is palm oil and why is it damaging?
Despite palm oil being in most of the products we use every day, not everyone is aware of what it is and why it's controversial. By Ceren Senkul, news reporter (Sunday 25 November 2018 21:47, UK)
As the petition to release Iceland's TV Christmas advert tops a million signatures, we look at why palm oil is so controversial. Last week, it was announced the supermarket's main Christmas advert would not make it to air. The Greenpeace-made advert chronicles the plight of the critically endangered orangutan, whose habitat is being destroyed by the production of palm oil.It was blocked by Clearcast - the body responsible for clearing ads before broadcast - for being too political.Clearcast says on its website: "An advertisement contravenes the prohibition on political advertising if it is:Advertisement"An advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature."Voiced by actress Emma Thompson, the animated short film talks about the destruction of the rainforest.
Earlier this year, Iceland committed to remove palm oil from all its own-brand foods by the end of 2018 Claire Bass, UK executive director of Humane Society International, told Sky News: "Orangutans not only have their forest homes destroyed, but they can also be directly killed by palm oil workers in efforts to clear the land."We're losing these great apes at the rate of 25 every single day, so we either act now or lose them forever."The story touched millions of people who took the time to sign the petition, started by Mark Topps.Mr Topps told Sky News: "I first watched the advert with my five-year-old daughter and it sparked a conversation about the rainforest.
"The petition has raised awareness and spreading the message of sustainability within the palm oil trade and ensuring that companies are held accountable and that we can protect and preserve our environment and the wildlife within it.
"Despite palm oil being in most of the products we use every day, not everyone is aware of what exactly it is, what the problem with it is, and why it's used so much.
What is palm oil? It is the most popular type of vegetable oil derived from palm oil fruit.About half of all the products you can buy in a supermarket contain palm oil.It's in shampoos, cosmetics, chocolate, crisps, cleaning products, cereals, protein bars - to name a few.Palm oil is not always listed as such on a product's ingredients.A lot of products contain derivatives of the oil itself, but it's still palm oil.Alternative names include azelaic acid, cocoa butter equivalent, glycerin and anything that contains the word "palm".
What does it have to do with the orangutan? The mass production of palm oil is linked to deforestation, habitat loss, climate change and animal cruelty.Orangutans have become critically endangered, as forests are bulldozed to make way for palm oil plantations.After palm oil plantations are established, scores of orangutans are displaced.Hungry and out of their natural habitat, they try to find food in plantation areas.They are often killed in order to protect the plantation sites.More than 90% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years.Ms Bass says: "Most palm oil is produced in Indonesia, home to critically endangered orangutans, as well as rhinos, tigers and their unique ecosystems."There is a also growing concern that palm oil production will soon expand to Africa and threaten the habitats and primate species there.
"If it's so bad, why is it so popular? It's popular because it's high yield, so it's cheap to produce.About 80% of the world's supply of palm oil is produced by Indonesia and Malaysia.Most of the world's palm oil is produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia, but to devastating effects.It is Indonesia's third largest export earner.
So should consumers boycott products containing palm oil? No. Palm oil can be grown without destroying rainforests, so if you opt for products which contain sustainable palm oil there is no need to boycott anything, just alter your choices.As long as the product is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which has become the globally recognized standard for sustainable palm oil, it means it has been produced according to a specific criteria.
Why can't a less harmful vegetable oil be mass produced instead? It would basically be replacing one problem with another.Bigger plantations would be needed if palm oil were to be replaced by sunflower oil, for example, since palm trees produce more oil than other crops per unit of land.Ms Bass says: "Consumers are increasingly aware of the direct animal welfare impact food choices such as meat and dairy consumption have, which is why we're seeing such a rise in the number of people switching to vegan and plant-based diets, but they are now also coming to realize that seemingly innocuous ingredients like palm oil can have a disastrous impact on animals too."
Sometimes orangutans are killed directly
An aerial view of forest being cleared