The issue with palm oil

More and more companies are boycotting palm oil. One of the UK’s supermarkets (Iceland) has even announced that it’s going to ban using the oil in all of its own brand products by the end of the year.

And considering that the palm oil is nearly everywhere (approximately half of the products offered in supermarkets at the moment) that’s a pretty big statement!

So what is the problem with palm oil and why is it causing debates around the globe? Is it really that bad?

Well it’s complicated as the answer is yes and no. So let’s look at the facts.

Palm oil is a very popular vegetable oil, made from the fruits of African oil palms. Although the palms originated in Africa, they have been planted and farmed in other areas with enough heat and rainfall. Nowadays the majority of palm oil is produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.

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The not so bad

Palm oil is more efficient to produce than any other vegetable oil alternatives. It has great cooking properties and acts as a skin’s conditioning agent when used in cosmetics.
The demand for it creates employment opportunities in the developing countries and means families having better way of life. Which is a good thing right?

The bad

The oil in question is not bad as an ingredient; the problem is the way it gets produced. Unfortunately very few farms are growing and producing the oil sustainably, which leads to deforestation around the world and many animals losing its natural habitat (Orangutans and Sumatran tigers are the ones most at risk). Apart from that as the forests are burned down to clear land for oil palms, the air pollution levels are extremely increasing (like the ones observed in Singapore back in June 2013).

Campaigners admit that by just looking at the product’s label it is difficult to know if the oil has been produced in a way that is bad for our planet. However customers have a right to know the origin of the ingredients in the products they buy. Therefore companies need to take a lead and become key drivers of a sustainable palm oil industry. We also need a certification on products that would allow for more educated choices.

We should definitely boycott unsustainable palm oil. And until we can be sure that the oil has been really produced the sustainable way, maybe it is better to stay away from it just to send a message demanding change. 

Karolina Scott