What’s the Deal with Palm Oil?
Hey kind lifers,
I wanted to touch base with you all on palm oil since this ingredient deserves serious attention! Palm oil is a kind of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. Conventional palm oil is an ingredient so commonly used in food and body care that you probably have it all over your kitchen and bathroom without even realizing it!
The conventional palm oil industry has immense impacts on deforestation, clearing of peatlands (carbon rich swamps), habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses. It’s large scale deforestation (300 football fields per hour!) is pushing many species to extinction. There are fewer than 400 Sumatra Tigers left on the island of Sumatra and only 1,500 Bornean Pygmy Elephants left in Borneo. On top of this, the clearing of the land’s carbon rich peatlands has been especially damaging to the world’s climate. These peatlands can hold 18-23 times as much carbon than the forests above them, with the peatlands in Southeast Asia storing roughly the same amount of carbon as the Amazon forest.. Once these peatlands are drained and burned, tons of carbon is released into the atmosphere, leading Indonesia to be the fifth largest contributor of carbon to the world’s atmosphere after large nations such as China and the United States.
Despite how horrendous conventional palm oil is – you maybe using it every day without realizing it. Half the packaged food (and other) products found on supermarket shelves contain it – in everything from cookies, potato chips, chocolate to cosmetics, toothpastes, shampoos and more. What’s tricky about palm oil is it can be disguised under the name “vegetable oil” or other words associated with the word “palm.” For a list of the sneaky ingredient labels palm oil can be listed as, check out this list. If you’re still unsure whether a product contains it, do a search on your phone or call the company!
Conventional palm oil is devastating and there are a ton of companies with very weak commitments (or none at all) to source it responsibly. Check out this scorecard created by Union of Concerned Scientists to see how companies you support rank and sign this petition to urge big brands away from conventional palm oil. If you’re feeling energized, give these companies a call! Additionally, go through your products to make yourself aware of which is/isn’t using palm oil and if it is, notice if it’s certified organic, RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified, and/or Palm Oil Done Right. If it’s not, make your voice heard! Contact these companies and support products that are committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing. We need to end the production of unsustainable conventional palm oil!
Top photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov