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The Controversy with Palm Oil

WHAT IS PALM OIL?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the fruit of oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis) which grow rapidly and produce exceptionally high yields. The plant/tree has a lifespan of 25 years. It is grown mainly in Asia, Africa and South America where they have clear-cut forests and rainforests in order to grow 15 million hectares of the palm plant.

That's equivalent to 40 million acres.




WHY IS PALM OIL A PROBLEM?

Palm oil is cheap and is sold in huge amounts....79 million metric tonnes worldwide.

The devastation on the environment, water, eco-systems, animal habitat, especially the endangered orangutan, is undeniable. Displacement of animals who live in the rainforests are severely affected by the clear-cutting of their homes. They have nowhere else to go. It is estimated that over 100,000 Bornean Orangutans were lost between 1999 and 2015. Burning rainforests to make way for plantations contribute to these major issues.




WHO'S PRODUCING PALM OIL?

The largest producer of palm oil is Indonesia, with one third of its' forest lost to palm oil plant production.

Borneo has 50% tropical deforestation.

China and India are the largest consumers of palm oil but it is found in a great many products all over the world.



WHERE CAN WE FIND PALM OIL?

If you take a look at any product in the grocery aisles, you'll probably find palm oil or one of its derivatives in the ingredients label. Many multinational corporations purchase palm oil because it's inexpensive and very versatile.


Infact, it's one of the worlds most versatile oils. Once refined, it's consistency makes it useful in packaged goods. It's a great foaming agent in most shampoos, conditioners and soap. It provides viscosity and acts as an emulsifier for body care products.

Cosmetic companies like it because it's a cheap ingredient with several functions.


It raises the melting point of ice cream. It enhances the taste of processed foods. It prevents frozen foods from sticking. It's used for frying because of its high melting point. In short, it has many uses including raw material for biofuels.


It can be found in a great many products including:


*soap

*lipstick

*detergent

*shampoo

*cookies

*chocolate

*ice cream

*margarine

*peanut butter

*packaged bread

*instant noodles

*pizza dough


These are common palm oil based

ingredients in food products....


*RBDPO (Refined, Bleached, Deodorized Palm Oil)

*Palm Mid-Fraction

*Palm Olein

*Palm Stearin

*Partially hydrogenated palm oil

*Palm Kernel Oil (PKO)

*Palm Kernel Olein

*Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil

*Modified Palm Kernel Oil

*Mono and Diglycerides (source oil undeclared


Btw, If you don't already know, anything Modified or Hydrogenated isn't good to ingest.

That's another topic for another time.


Those are just a few of the hundreds of products which contain palm oil.

70% of personal care products have a derivative. Many fast food restaurants use it.

But wait....how do we know if it's a derivative of palm oil?




This is why it has become so daunting to continually read labels on products.

How are we supposed to remember all these derivatives? Even if you printed this out and brought it with you every time you shopped....would you stand there and go through this list for every product? For those that want to do right by the environment and animals, have a daunting task to try to decipher every possible derivative of palm oil. Some people contact the companies of particular products to ask about the ingredients. This doesn't guarantee you will get an answer.


WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR SUSTAINABILITY?

In 2004 the Round Table on Sustainable Palm (RSPO) rspo.org in Geneva, Switzerland was created in order to have sustainable palm oil products through global standards. Companies that grew the palm plant were encouraged to become certified. The current problem is that not enough companies are certified and there are some 'bad actors' who try to pass their products as certified.


The complexities and fragmentation of the supply chain create problems for the manufacturers and retailers aiming to use sustainable palm oil.


There is hope that certification and safeguards will evolve. It's a slow process.

Land rights, permits, corruption, child labour, exploitation of workers, greenhouse gas emissions from burning forests in order to plant, financial resources, government loopholes, transparency and accountability all impact the aim to grow responsibly.




WHAT CAN YOU DO?

You can choose whether or not to purchase products which include palm oil.

It's important to note that palm oil is safe to consume.

Those who want to take part in making a difference with regard to the environment, can choose to avoid palm oil in as many products as possible. The controversy about palm oil isn't anything new and changes are slow but change is happening. Our environmental future and that of animals depend on palm oil being grown responsibly and sustainably.


The more you know, the more power you have about making choices with the everyday products you purchase. We all have the power to influence multinational corporations with our preferences. In the meantime, you can choose to avoid palm oil or buy products with the RSPO certification label, knowing that it's a step in the right direction.







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