In Western society, palm oil is the most commonly used vegetable oil. However, most people have never even heard of what palm oil actually is, let alone understand the negative impact it has on the world’s animals, people and environment. Palm oil comes from the fruit of oil palms that are native to West Africa and is contained in many conventional items we use every day.
The most common items that we buy that contain palm oil include; commercially baked bread, pastries, cakes and biscuits, packaged chips and snacks, margarine, vegan cheese, soap and skincare items, ice creams, pizza bases, instant noodles, chocolate, deodorants and shampoo. In fact, 50% of packaged foods that can be found in supermarkets today contain palm oil.
So why is palm oil so popular? Well, it is low cost to produce and has been touted as a healthier alternative to animal and trans fats. However, there is a nasty side to the production of palm oil that many people are unaware of. There are two ways that palm oil is produced. The first involves mass deforestation, human rights abuse and animal deaths across the globe. The other is a more sustainable method that does not involve these horrific acts against the environment.
Firstly, many palm oil workers are often children from Malaysia and Indonesia who use heavy extension poles to harvest the fruit, spend long hours collecting fruit from the plantation floor, and carry heavy loads on a daily basis. Child labour is considered to be a major human rights violation but unfortunately this is not policed across the expansive palm oil plantations in these countries.
Sadly, the growing popularity for palm oil plantations is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation with 300 football fields of forest being cleared every HOUR to make room for the plantations. Up to 80% of deforestation in Indonesia is said to be done illegally. If this deforestation continues it is suggested that 98% of Indonesian rainforest will be wiped out by 2032. This loss of rainforest will have devastating effects on the world environment by contributing to global warming emissions, harming animals and their habitats, and polluting the air.
To make way for palm oil plantations, rainforests are burned creating immense greenhouse gases and many endangered species who call these rainforests homes are now dwindling in numbers. Animals such as the Asian Rhinoceros, Proboscis Monkey, Pygmy Elephant, Malayan Tapir, Sun Bear, Sumatran Tiger, Clouded Leopard, Gibbon and the Orangutan. Over 50 Orangutans are killed every WEEK because of deforestation. They are often burnt to death when their homes are set alight to clear forest for palm oil plantations. Deforestation also makes Orangutans more vulnerable to poachers. They are also considered to be a pest by palm oil workers and are often run over by excavation equipment, doused in petrol and set alight, captured, tortured, beaten, shot or slaughtered.
Not only are animal habitats under attack for palm oil production but also human villages are being destroyed. In 2011 one of the largest palm oil production companies bulldozed an entire village, destroying homes to clear 40,000 hectares of land for palm oil plantations. With 45 million people living in the forests of Indonesia, there homes are all under threat with the growing popularity of palm oil globally. Millions of people across South-East Asia are also being affected by the thick choking smog that comes from fires used to destroy the rainforests and 110,000 people die prematurely every year from smoke inhalation and toxic air pollution.
Palm oil also has negative health benefits for those who are consuming it on a daily basis. Palm oil is naturally high in saturated fats. One tablespoon of palm oil contains 55% of our daily recommended intake of saturated fats. Saturated fats have been found to damage both the brain and body through its link to chronic inflammation and risk of cardiovascular and other heart disease.
So now that we know a little more about palm oil, what it is used in and the devastating effects it has on animals, people and the environment. What is it we can do to reduce the harm palm oil production is causing? The first and foremost thing that we can do as consumers is to vote with our wallets. Always look for palm oil on the list of ingredients and eliminate all products that use palm oil. Secondly, shop at stores like Santos Organics that are palm oil aware and stock only sustainable products. Thirdly, let’s go back to eating fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. All foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Eliminating refined, processed and sugary pre-packaged foods will not only eliminate any chance of consuming palm oil but are also so good for both our physical and mental health.
On the 19th of August 2019, Santos Organics became certified as only stocking products with sustainable and traceable palm oil, prior to which all unsustainable palm oil products were removed.
Written by Megan Lee