Palm oil is a pervasive ingredient found on store shelves and in products like food, cosmetics, shampoo and even detergent. And, while it’s true that the irresponsible farming and production of palm, most commonly found in places like Southeast Asia, have led to the devastation of natural habitats, and local environments and wildlife, that’s not the full story. Palm Done Right is a mission-based educational platform dedicated to proving that there is a positive solution for palm oil. This is the second in a three-part series that takes a closer look at issues and misunderstandings around palm oil production and a deep dive into positive solutions for change.
Think Banning Palm Oil is the Answer? Maybe Not.
Most people hear the word palm oil and think of deforestation and destruction, so it’s easy to understand how one might arrive at the answer of banning its production. While there has been a battle cry to boycott palm oil and a push for products without it, the answer is not that simple.
Why Palm Oil?
In the past couple decades, palm oil has become a ubiquitous product, found in everyday household products from food to personal care. In fact, palm a palm kernal oil accounted for 37% of global vegetable oil consumption in 2017/2018.
The rapid increase in the use of palm oil as an ingredient in such a wide variety of products is due to several factors. This outcome is the result of a mix of economic and political decisions taken by the US, EU and Southeast Asian Governments. The US and EU ruling on (food) crop-based biofuels accelerated the use of palm oil. Indonesia and Malaysia, by far the largest producers of palm oil, used palm growing as an instrument to boost their economies. Large volumes of palm oil became available in the market thanks to efficient growing and high yields at very competitive costs compared to other vegetable oils. This growth led to the use of palm oil as an ingredient at the turn of the new millennium.
Simultaneous to the widespread growth of palm oil, came awareness of its versatility as an ingredient for food and personal care. Palm oil has many advantages and is a valuable ingredient for texture, taste, stability and shelf life. This ingredient also gained popularity as a good replacement for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils which contain trans fats, as well as butter and lard. Palm oil’s diverse properties and versatility ensure the high product quality and performance that consumers are seeking in the market.
While palm oil accounts for 37% of global vegetable consumption, palm oil production accounts for just 10% of all farmland dedicated to growing vegetable oil crops. With such outstanding versatility and efficiency, it becomes clear that moving away from palm oil and replacing it with other vegetable oils will lead to the need for more agricultural land, and could increase deforestation, while resulting in potentially inferior products.
Sustainable And Organic Palm Oil: The Better Choice?
Saying “no” to palm oil may be worse than using it. Moving away from palm could result in a negative impact on the growth of sustainable practices and reduce incentives to do things right. We need to encourage good practices by rewarding deforestation-free and wildlife-friendly palm oil. The conversation needs to shift to one of organic and sustainable supply. COOP has set an example we can all follow.
We have a responsibility to consider what the future of palm oil could look like and what this could mean for tropical biodiversity and global conservation efforts. We believe organic and sustainable palm oil plays a role in shaping the future of palm, with farmers committed to agricultural practises that respect the forests and the animals that live inside it.
Stay tuned for our next article where we will explore solutions and illustrate the role we all play in shaping the future of palm oil.