*WARNING – this post contains content that some may find distressing*
Palm Oil is made from the fruit of the African oil palm, which is now grown in most tropical countries. It is a main ingredient in almost all of our favourite products – from soap to Nutella. But to produce this life-giving elixir, they are cutting and burning down the rainforest. Rainforest deforestation is happening at an alarming rate – an area the size of a football pitch will be chopped down quicker than you can say “Can you pass me that spoon and the Nutella, please?”
60 billion tons of palm oil are produced each year. This is grown in some of the world’s poorest regions, and is often instrumental in lifting people out of abject poverty. However, the land used for these plantations is usually ex-rainforest and incredibly infertile, so can only manage 2-3 years of crops. This results in the benefits of oil palm being short-lived. And the consequences of deforestation often impact the poorest, local communities first.
There are ‘sustainable’ palm oil sources available, through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); which a number of big companies such as Nestlé are involved with. BUT it has been found that many of the oil refineries and companies (Nestlé) involved, still source palm oil from sources that are actively deforesting tropical rainforests. Now, don’t get me wrong, sustainably certified palm oil is miles better than the alternative as they do offer a number of benefits for the palm oil farmers. But the whole idea behind something being ‘sustainable’, is that it can actually be sustained. If large-scale deforestation is allowed to continue, then it isn’t sustainable.
We cannot keep carrying on like ‘business as usual’. Rainforest cover has decreased ~80% in the last 20 years. If deforestation continues at its current rate, the forests will completely disappear within the next 40 years.
Deforestation contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector and is catastrophic for biodiversity. One of the most poignant examples for the impact oil palm has, is the 6000 orangutans that are killed each year through palm oil deforestation.
Palm oil is just that – an oil. It can be replaced with almost any other type of oil or fat, but is often chosen due to its low cost and high yields. Until there are stricter regulations on palm oil sourcing, it is best to avoid buying (boycott) anything containing palm oil! A lot of companies know that people don’t like palm oil, so they can be quite sneaky by listing it under a different name.
Here are some of the things that are code for palm oil:
- Vegetable Oil
- Vegetable Fat
- Palm Kernel
- Palm Kernel Oil
- Palm Fruit Oil
- Stearic Acid
- Elaeis Guineensis
- Palmitic Acid
- Palm Stearine
- Palmitoyl Oxostearame
- Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium Kernelate
- Sodium Palm Kernelate
- Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
- Hydrated Palm Glycerides
- Ethyl Palmitate
- Octyl Palmitate
- Palmityl Alcohol
It is tough to say whether you should boycott these products completely, as the millions of palm oil farmers are the ones most likely to be impacted. However, companies only care about one thing – money. So, in order for them to listen, you have to hit them where it hurts – their profit margins. Also, it is important to make your voice heard – we need to let these companies know that we aren’t happy about what they are doing!
If we don’t do something now, it might soon be too late.
If you have any other suggestions or anything to add, let me know in the comments!