Issues > Food & Drink > Environment > Palm Oil
Palm Oil
Palm oil is in around half of all packaged products including shampoos, baking oil, chocolate, cosmetics, chips, cookies, margarine, and soaps. But did you know that this simple ingredient actually contributes to a great deal of environmental degradation? The vast majority of palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia from oil palm plantations. The problem is, creating these plantations requires destruction of a significant amount of rainforest. This process takes away the habitat of countless animal species, such as orangutans, tigers, and rhinos. This is especially troubling given the biodiversity of these forests. The indigenous peoples of those lands frequently lose their homes and whole way of life.
Unfortunately, palm oil production is increasing year on year. It can be difficult for consumers to know which products contain palm oil as it is usually just listed as "vegetable oils". Luckily, many companies are removing palm oil from their products or producing palm-oil-free versions. These are often clearly labelled as such.
While palm oil production currently causes a great deal of damage, there are some advantages to the crop. Its yield per unit of land can be up to ten times higher than other vegetable oils. It is also plays a significant role in the Indonesian and Malaysian economies, helping the countries to develop. Given that a boycott is likely to just result in palm oil being replaced with less efficient vegetable oil crops, many suggest sustainable palm oil production as a more reasonable solution. Leading this initiative is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) who provide certifications to growers and retailers involved in the palm oil industry.
The RSPO aims to allow growers to earn a living wage while respecting human rights, conserving the natural environment, and maintaining transparency. However, many are concerned that the certification process is not strict enough. For example, land clearing and new plantings are still permissible, although there are protections for indigenous peoples and forests with high conservation values. Further, some of their certification options provide little environmental or social benefit while still allowing use of a varied form of their logo. One example is the 'mass balance' certification which still allows sustainable palm oil to be mixed with conventional palm oils. Another involves merely buying 'credits' to support growers without any assessment of the actual palm oil used in the products! Because of this confusing system, it is important to understand the different certifications (follow the link below) and check carefully when purchasing products containing RSPO certified palm oil.
What you can do:
Download BOS Australia's Palm Oil Free and CSPO List to help you make an informed choice when purchasing products.
See if your favourite products contain palm oil derived ingredients by checking against this list of names for palm oil.
Check out WWF's Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard to see which companies are sourcing palm oil responsibly.