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Why is palm oil under attack?

Ever heard of the ingredient palm oil? You can find it in countless articles in the supermarket, yet the basic ingredient is under heavy fire. Palm oil is very efficient to grow, but today rainforest has to make way for the sky-high demand. Read all about it here.

Switching to a plant-based diet is an environmentally conscious choice. However, not all ingredients in plant-based foods are sustainable. On the contrary, palm oil can be found in countless products and is responsible for enormous CO² emissions and rapid deforestation.

Palm oil is currently under heavy fire. It is the most widely used vegetable oil, accounting for 38% of global consumption. Although the ingredient is far from sustainable, the plantations employ some 5 million people in Southeast Asia, of whom some 60% are small farms. Good for the local economy, you might think, but nothing could be further from the truth. Deforestation, land grabbing, exploitation: these are just some of the factors involved in the production of it. And since it is estimated that demand for the product will double by 2050, now is the time to act.

How is palm oil damaging our planet?

It is primarily extracted from the fruit of the oil palm. It is not a popular ingredient among food and cosmetics manufacturers because of its nutritional values (high percentage of saturated fats and antioxidants), but because of its price. Palm oil is extremely cheap, which explains the high demand for it. Good for producer and consumer, you might think. But behind the scenes, we pay a hefty price for it: every year, hectares of primeval forest disappear to create oil palm plantations. And that causes a terribly polluting chain reaction.

Because the number of oil palm plantations keeps increasing, rainforest disappears. This forces both the local population and endangered species such as the orang-utan to leave their territory. Large areas of forest are burnt down to make way for fallow land, but this in turn unintentionally sets larger areas of forest ablaze. Indonesia and Malaysia have to deal with continuous uncontrollable forest fires due to the production of palm oil.

And forest fires have dramatic consequences. They deteriorate air quality drastically, causing health problems for the local population. In addition, they emit a large quantity of CO² that accelerates global warming. And as if that were not enough, the plantations use a lot of pesticides that affect the soil health. The problem is not in the product itself, but in the production model.

Ever heard of the ingredient palm oil? You can find it in countless articles in the supermarket, yet the basic ingredient is under heavy fire. Palm oil is very efficient to grow, but today rainforest has to make way for the sky-high demand. Read all about it here.

What can you do as a consumer?

Some suggest replacing it with coconut oil. Although no virgin forest is being cut down for it (yet), an equal demand for coconut oil would be worse than the current demand. You would need much more fertile land for it. Amongst vegetable oils, it is the most efficient in terms of production, so you simply have to look for palm oil that is sustainably produced.

If you buy organic food products, you can be sure that no artificial fertilisers or synthetic pesticides were used in the cultivation of palm oil. But the organic label does not guarantee anything in terms of deforestation or working conditions.

Ever heard of the ingredient palm oil? You can find it in countless articles in the supermarket, yet the basic ingredient is under heavy fire. Palm oil is very efficient to grow, but today rainforest has to make way for the sky-high demand. Read all about it here.So which label does? The RSPO label. This is the label of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil that advocates the sustainable production. Products carrying the RSPO label are not responsible for the disappearance of primary forests or other areas of high natural or cultural value. Less pesticides and no artificial fertiliser were used in the cultivation. The rights of farmers and local people are respected and the requirements are regularly reviewed. This sounds like music to our ears, but the RSPO label is still subject to criticism. There is still some work to be done when it comes to monitoring compliance with the criteria.

So what is the best thing to do as a consumer to encourage sustainable and ethical production of palm oil?

  • If you do buy products containing palm oil, look for the RSPO label.
  • If you have no other choice, buy organic products.

Do you manage to ban palm oil from your diet or do you have any useful tips for us? Let us know via Facebook, Instagram or info@etikl.com