You may be wondering why palm oil is bad. What’s the problem with palm oil? Why are people upset about it?
Where there were once lush rainforests, now there are palm oil plantations. Deforestation is the reason palm oil is a global concern. Companies use it in thousands of products. Palm oil is in everything from food coloring and cereal to desserts, shampoo and household cleaners.
Palm oil has been getting a lot of attention. You may be hearing about palm oil and wonder why it’s an issue.
Demand for palm oil continues to increase, inciting tremendous deforestation. When developers burn rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations, those rainforests are gone forever.
Think about the biodiversity in a rainforest. In Borneo, an island in Asia, scientists found over 15,000 plant species in the tropical rainforests. They are still discovering more.
Tropical rainforests contain 50% of the world’s plants and animals.
According to worldwildlife.org, the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra are home to thousands of unique species. Among these are the world’s LAST-REMAINING Sumatran Rhinos, Sumatran Tigers, Borneo pygmy elephants, and orangutans.
In addition, the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra are the ONLY PLACES ON EARTH all of these animals live together.
According to the Orangutan Foundation, in the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, 67.9 million acres were deforested in Indonesia.
What about the people?
Indigenous people and others live on these islands as well, and have for generations. Like the animals displaced by the plantations, they are affected.
Why do we need rainforests?
The entire world depends on rainforests to produce oxygen and to clean the atmosphere.
Yet, these rainforests and their diverse ecosystems are being cleared — destroyed forever — to grow more palm oil.
How many rainforests are being cleared?
Every hour, 6,000 acres are cleared. That’s the equivalent of 4,000 football fields — per hour!
Everything that once thrived in the rainforest is gone.
The animals are driven from their homes. If they escape the fires, where do they go? Their habitats are destroyed.
Even more, then pollution becomes an issue. There are high levels of carbon dioxide and black carbon in the air from the fires.
Why is palm oil in demand
Palm oil is common in many products for a variety of reasons. It’s a prized, multi-functional ingredient.
From a palm oil plantation owner’s perspective:
Money. Palm oil is a productive crop. Plantation owners can grow more palm oil per hectare than other oils. It grows quickly.
Also appealing is it requires minimal costs to grow compared to other commodities. Palm oil doesn’t require as many fertilizers or pesticides like other crops.
From a food manufacturer’s perspective:
Money and versatility. Palm oil is typically less expensive than palm oil alternatives. In addition, it’s a very versatile oil that can be added to dozens of different foods.
Remember, there are hundreds of names for palm oil derivatives. Each of those is able to do something different.
Some of the reasons food manufacturers use palm oil include:
- Preserving, adding to the shelf life
- Keeping foods crunchy
- Making foods chewy
- To increase volume
- Improve texture
- Creating mouth feel
- Palm oil remains stable at room temperature
FDA banned trans fats in 2018
In the United States, food manufacturers are no longer able to use trans fats and trans fatty acids in foods. This regulation forced companies to find replacement ingredients. Many of them turned to palm oil.
Because of this, many packaged and processed foods that once were palm oil free now contain palm oil. Think about desserts and confections in your grocery store. Cakes, cookies, scones, biscuits all contain palm oil ingredients now.
Why self-care product companies use palm oil:
Because palm oil has so many applications, palm oil is very common in bar soap, liquid soap, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, lotion and moisturizer, toothpaste, cosmetics and more.
Remember, palm oil is versatile — it can do many things in all types of products — and it’s inexpensive.
There are scores of ways companies have learned to manipulate palm oil to do different things in all types of products. And because it’s inexpensive to use, companies continue to use palm oil in their products.
Some of the reasons palm oil is in hygiene and cosmetics is to:
- Preserve, especially in liquids, creams, lotions
- As a base for bar soaps and deodorants
- To bind ingredients
- To blend ingredients
- As an emollient
- To create suds, foam
- Pearly appearance
- Makes products easy to apply
- Helps products be non-greasy
- Makes products easy to rinse off
- Humectant and moistener
- Surfactant and emulsifying agent
- Enhances “skin feel” – soft feeling on application
- Helps products glide on skin
Palm oil common in many products
Manufacturers also use palm oil in most all cleaning products. This includes cleaners and detergents that use “plant-based” and “plant-derived” ingredients. Many products advertise they are “free and clear” and environmentally friendly despite using unsustainable palm oil.
Demand for palm oil is also increasing for bio-fuel and many other products.
What’s the problem with palm oil?
Problem with unsustainable palm oil
Much of the problem is due to the lack of regulation. While there are sustainable palm oil options, they are difficult to regulate. It’s also difficult to know for sure palm oil is sustainable.
There are problems with what’s considered sustainable.
In addition, there aren’t clear rules for labeling palm oil on ingredient labels. “Vegetable oil” on a label doesn’t explain if there is palm oil in the product.
In addition, with hundreds of names for palm oil derivatives, the everyday consumer doesn’t know that ingredient names such as Glycerin, Mono- & Diglycerides, and Sodium Palmate are often hidden names for palm oil.
As the ongoing demand for palm oil increases, developers continue to clear and burn rainforests in Malaysia, Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia with no end in sight.
Many organizations and foundations are working hard to educate and create awareness about the problems with unsustainable palm oil. There are many animals on the verge of being extinct.
Where does palm oil grow?
The countries with the greatest to least palm oil production include:
Orangutans and palm oil
The orangutan has become the face of the problem with the increasing demand for palm oil and deforestation. Ongoing deforestation affects orangutans as well as other animals because:
- Loss of habitat
- Species lost, hurt and killed
There are many organizations and foundations which create awareness and help save orangutans. In addition, many are protecting and saving the rainforests. Some of these include:
- Orangutan Foundation: www.orangutan.org.uk
- Orangutan Outreach: www.redapes.org
- Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme: https://www.sumatranorangutan.org
Palm oil free certification labeling
There are two organizations who work to verify products are palm oil free. Products can earn Palm Oil Free labeling much like products that use Vegan labeling or Cruelty-Free labels.
Food and non-food companies can apply for their entire brand’s portfolio of products or for individual products.
International Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark Programme (POFCAP)
This is an independent, not-for-profit certified trademark program based in Australia.
To date, the International Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark Programme is qualified to certify products as palm oil free in 19 countries, including the United States. Other countries include England, Spain, Norway, France, Australia, Belguim, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
This means that their palm oil free label is approved, valid and recognized in these countries. Learn more here.
You can go to POFCAP’s website to learn more and to see the list of hundreds of names for palm oil ingredients.
Some companies which have certified their products through POFCAP include: Loom Designs, MSM Milling, OmMade Organic Skincare, Red Ape Cinnamon, Wild Friends Foods, and more. In addition, you can see the products they have certified palm oil free.
This is an independent, non-profit organization and registered charity based in Australia. Orangutan Alliance promotes reducing non-sustainable palm oil in consumer products.
Some of the companies and brands which have products certified palm oil free include: Nuttiva Hazelnut Spread, Hawkers Snacks, The Protein Ball Co., Ethique, Viva la Body, and more. Learn more here.
What can you do about palm oil
Become an Educated Consumer. Read labels. Buy products with less ingredients. Avoid products with “palm” in the ingredient labels. Learn about which companies are truly using sustainable palm oil.
The increasing demand for palm oil is taking a toll on the environment.
Among many environmental concerns, large-scale deforestation continues to destroy wildlife’s habitats. Better-known examples include orangutans and Sumatra tigers which experts predict will be extinct from the wild in the upcoming years.
From an environmental standpoint, palm oil is a huge concern. Palm oil plantations are replacing rainforests at an alarming rate. The implications from this are far-reaching. Palm oil is a very productive crop. It’s inexpensive to grow, and owners can grow more of it per hectare than other oils.