In midst of what’s becoming one of the biggest controversies in the food industry is a seemingly natural and innocent ingredient – palm oil. For years now, palm oil has dominated the industry and is now the most commonly produced type of oil. Its versatile nature allows it to be used in anything from cosmetics, cleaning products, fuels to even your ice cream. Combine that with its cheap manufacturing costs and it’s a duo that is simply irresistible for big corporations. So why are people outraged by the use of this ingredient in their products and moving to alternatives?
Palm Oil is Reshaping Our World
Global warming is one of the biggest issues our generation faces today. Surprisingly, palm oil plays a big part in it. Countries that struggle with corruption such as Indonesia, fall prey to the big money of corporations who want to get this product for cheap. Palm trees need lots of rain and heat. The perfect combination that is found in rainforests. Unfortunately, the forests and the most precious life that exists within rainforests represents a road block for the companies that want to build palm oil plantations.
Through bribery and lobbying, corporations are able to make agreements to burn down entire plots of rainforests in order to make room for the palm trees. Not only the beautiful life is destroyed irreversably, the fumes from the fire themselves represent a huge threat to our planet. The rainforest typically serves a vital role in absorbing greenhouse gases and offsets some of our carbon footprint of our planet. However, all these carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere all at once when the forests catch fire. One of these fires can produce more carbon daily than the entire economy of United States.
In 1950’s, about 15% of all Earth’s land surface was covered by rainforests. In fewer than 50 years, more than half of that was destroyed by either fire or chainsaw. About 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned daily. More than 200 acres will be burned by the time you finish reading this article. Unsustainable palm oil use is changing our landscapes, climate and destroying our wildlife.
One can image a type of person it takes to set fire to this incredible miracle of life that are rainforests and knowingly burn down everything within. It’s almost inconceivable how such horrific act can be committed. Many would picture an evil boss from a corporation or a bribed official standing there with a match. However, you as the consumer hold the match. Every decision you make at the supermarket either helps or makes the problem much worse.
Palm Oil Use Steadily Increasing
Palm oil is abundant in our food supply. From your breakfast cereal, to an ice cream dessert for dinner, palm tree oil might be lurking in there somewhere. Palm oil is also found in:
- Instant Noodles
- Ice cream
- Packaged Bread
- Pizza Dough
Your best bet is to read the ingredient list, or if you are unsure e-mail the companies or ask the restaurant if something contains palm oil. However, according to World Wildlife Foundation, sometimes products that use palm oil may use other names for it:
INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol
CONTAINS: Palm oil
Best and Worst Palm Oil Users
There are ways to use palm oil in a more environmentally sustainable and friendly way. A project called Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit or SPOTT, was created in London by the Zoological Society (ZSL) with an aim is to push companies towards competition for sustainability when it comes to palm oil. It rates companies based on 50 sustainability indicators in seven different categories, that include green house emissions policy, supply chain tracability, protection of forests, and compliance with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It also enables green groups to monitor these companies to make sure they are complying with their comitments and safe practices. The SPOTT is a great way to monitor companies as rather than being a static list, it is dynamic and updateable. The list helps the companies identify areas where they can improve on and when new policies are passed, the system improves their score.
So far the list is limited to 25 companies monitored by ZSL and has a significant gap in coverage as it only includes publicly listed companies. However, it’s a great start towards sustainability and is one of the first to rate palm oil producers in a rigorous manner. You can learn more about SPOTT here.
Another great resource is the WWF Palm Oil Scorecard which rates 137 different companies on their use of sustainable palm oil. This tool allows you to search by country, company and sector. Check it out here.
Here are the best and worst palm oil users in US:
View Full Size
Some of the biggest retailers in United States such as Dunkin’ Brands, Safeway, Kroger, Cambell’s, Target and Costco rank among the worst palm oil users. The scorecard rates them on the commitments and actions they have taken when it comes to the sustainable use of palm oil. The criteria is less stringent than SPOTT’s but still paints a good picture on company practices. The 137 companies listed on WWF are manufacturers, food service companies and retailers. As a collective they amount to 10% of world’s palm oil use. The biggest suppliers of palm oil by far are Indonesia and Malaysia.
Transparency is one of the keys to transforming the industries. However, transparency alone, does not work if consumers don’t take action.
You Hold The Match
Palm oil is reshaping our world. It’s responsible for destruction of rainforests and habitats, but the fact is, palm oil is easily replaceable. Palm oil is not a necessity for consumers. For businesses, it represents savings but if there’s no consumer demand for the products it creates, the businesses will remove it from their products, use it more sustainably or find an alternative. Without any demand from corporations, deforestation due to palm oil would seize.
The fact is, consumers have the power to stop palm oil in its tracks. By simply avoiding any product with palm oil in it, you are helping animals, the environment and our planet. People around the world are already demanding companies to get this ingredient out of their products. If you love a product, ask a company to remove this ingredient from the products they manufacture and don’t boycott them until they do.
Global warming is very real and it is affecting us right now. As President Obama mentioned, global warming is not only an environmental issue but also a national security issue. Island nations around the world will lose their homes to rising sea levels and will have to look for shelter elsewhere. The Syrian refugee crisis is a drop in the bucket compared on what’s to come as a result of global warming. Palm oil is indisputably a big contributor to the issue of global warming. It’s not just another trend, it’s something that affects literally every single person in this world. Remember, you hold the match.