Updated: Jul 23, 2021
We think it is safe to assume that everyone has heard of Palm oil and most people are aware of the negative press that surrounds it. But is it really that bad and should we boycott it altogether?
*Panoramic image of Rainforest
First, let us understand a bit more about Palm oil.
According to the WWF,
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of Oil Palm Trees
Palm oil produces two products: crude palm oil and palm kernel oil.
Indonesia and Malaysia make up over 85% of global palm oil supply, but 42 other countries produce it.
Palm oil is an important crop for emerging economies and there are millions of smallholder farms who rely on palm oil for their livelihood.
Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop. It produces more oil per land area than any other equivalent crop. To get the same amount of oil from other sources such as soybean or coconut, you would need anywhere between 4 and 10 times the land.
Palm oil is found in around 50% of all packaged supermarket products including, but not limited to, food, lipstick, deodorant, soaps, and shampoos.
Palm oil is extremely versatile, gives products a longer shelf life and is relatively cheap – which are just some of the reasons being it so prevalent in a wide range of products.
All of that does not sound too bad, right? Its natural, abundant, requires less land mass and resources to grow than similar products, its cheap and supports millions of small farmers. So why is it considered bad?
*Image of palm fruit and mechanically extracted palm oil
Why is palm oil considered harmful?
Rainforest Rescue states that Palm oil plantations now cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface which produces around 66 million tonnes of Palm oil annually. They say that “today, a rainforest area the equivalent of 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour.”
*Panoramic image of sweeping palm oil plantation on cleared Rainforest land
The Young Peoples Trust for the Environment said “Before humans started destroying the rainforests, they covered 15% of the Earth’s Land area, today, they cover less than 3%. Out of 6 million square miles of tropical rainforest that once existed worldwide, only 2.4 million square miles remain. In just the last 50 years, one third of tropical rainforests have been destroyed.”
Agriculture is a leading driver of deforestation which, according to the WWF, is a threat to people and nature. Not only are forests essential to the air we breathe, but globally more than 1 billion people live in and around them who rely on forests for food shelter and livelihoods. They are also home to a plethora of biodiversity and wildlife.
Deforestation of diverse rainforests leads to harmful monocultures, displaces human communities, and increases human-wildlife conflicts, particularly for many endangered species like tigers,
elephants, and rhinos. Not to mention the much-publicised harms to orangutans.
To clear large parts of forest, a common method is to burn it, causing significant rises in air pollution and carbon dioxide.
The process of farming and extracting palm oil creates effluent that is released into water ways polluting them and the surrounding soils. This effluent can travel miles downstream affecting large areas.
The clearing of forests and unsuitable planting arrangements of Palm oil trees causes soil erosion which creates flooding and silt deposits further downstream. Areas that have been eroded loose much of their natural goodness and require more fertiliser and other chemicals.