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Palm the Palm: the high cost of the cheap oil

Let’s get one thing straight: palm oil is not evil. However, the unsustainable production of the cheap vegetable oil leading to deforestation, loss of natural habitats and greenhouse gas emissions is.

The rise in demand for palm oil since the 1980s was due to the products multifunctionality making it the world’s most versatile raw material. Palm oil and palm kernel oil based ingredients are found in approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves, including food and non-edible items. At present, it has become the second most traded oil crop in the world, after soy, with Malaysia and Indonesia as its main producers.

The calamity begins with forest fires as means of deforestation to create plantation land emitting heavy amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Unique and fragile ecosystems such as rainforest and peat swamps found mainly in South America and South East Asia are disrupted. Animal species dwelling in these habitats like the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran orangutan, rhinos, elephants and several gibbon species are endangered. This is topped with the predicaments of mono-cropping: soil erosion, loss of groundwater, pollution of waterways. The industry is also linked to indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as they are forced to abandon their land for extensive plantations.

Why so popular?

Palm is one of the most productive crops on the planet, with the ability to grow in a remarkable range of places. It offers a far greater yield at a lower cost of production than other vegetable oils. Such factors coupled with large profit margins, an incredible diversity of uses for palm oil and a lack of economically competitive substitutes result in the industry growing exponentially.

Employment

Many products that use palm oil avoid clear labeling. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names including Vegetable Oil/Fat, Palm Kernel, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, etc. It is widely used in:

  • Food items like chocolate, ice creams, margarine, instant noodles, cookies
  • Cooking oil
  • Animal feed
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Cosmetics like soap, lipstick, shampoo
  • Detergents
  • Biofuel – biodiesel as alternative to crude oil

Companies using palm oil

 Palmolive, Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo, Colgate, McDonalds, Nestlé, Procter, Gamble, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, L’Oréal, Mars, Mondelez, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever

Alternatives

Sweet Almond Oil                                                  Cottonseed Oil                    

Coconut oil                                                               Rice Bran Oil                                               

Hemp oil                                                                   Safflower Oil

Olive Oil                                                                    Grapeseed Oil

MGEcoduties offers palm-free bath soaps using coconut oil as a healthier lather agent. Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and contributes to skin care by moisturizing and reducing inflammation.

What can you do?

Boycotting products containing the ubiquitous palm oil is the simplest and most effective action you can do! Ultimately consumers have a greater impact in decreasing the demand to a reasonable degree in the long run than laws and treaties. This will incentivize the existing plantations to be focused on sustainability rather than meeting the ever escalating market of palm oil. Avoid buying palm oil based products and turn your shopping expedition into an active power of change.

 

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