Palm Oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit that originated from West Africa and the use of it in the international market expanded significantly as a result of the British Industrial Revolution. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are the top three countries that produce the most palm oil. In the 90s, palm oil only accounted for 10% of the global vegetable oil market, now it dominates 60% and is rapidly increasing. It is found in approximately 40% – 50% of household products in many developed countries and is present in a wide variety of products. This industry has been linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses.
A third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered. 90% of the orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years. Palm oil development Increases accessibility of animals to poachers and wildlife smuggles. The government’s main interest in the country’s economy leads them to allow corporations to take the land owned by indigenous peoples for their own financial benefits. The palm oil industry has been linked to major human rights violations, including child labor in remote areas of Indonesia and Malaysia. Deforestation for palm oil production also contributes significantly to climate change due to forest fires set to clear vegetation for plantations. Palm oil-based biofuels have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.
Palm oil, like many other resources, have the potential to be produced in a responsible manner that respects the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown, but many environmentalists believe it is just a “greenwashing scheme.” Greenwashing refers to a process by which companies and organizations put out misinformation in order to present themselves and their products as environmentally responsible to consumers and the public.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a not-for-profit organization that aims to unite stakeholders from all sectors of the palm oil industry, including environmental and social NGOs. It is currently the largest sustainability-focused organization in the palm oil sector, however, its standards do not ban deforestation or destruction of peatlands for the development of oil palm plantations. The World Resources Institute’s initiative on forests and landscapes in Indonesia, Project POTICO, uses novel mapping techniques and community engagement to help shift palm development from forested to already-degraded lands.
There are other alternatives to palm oil; each with their own environmental, social and health impact.
- Olive Oil is produced in parts of Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, which is causing water shortages and desertification caused by severe soil erosion.
- Canola Oil is a genetically modified vegetable oil derived from rapeseed and is primarily produced in Canada. GMO crops impede on genetic diversity and require increased pesticide use. It can be harmful to human health because in its pure form rapeseed oil is considered mildly toxic when consumed in high quantities.
- Despite the high prices of coconut oil in the United States, many growers in the Philippines and Indonesia are still living in extreme poverty. Also, coconut trees produce less as they age, meaning more farmland will be needed as demand for the oil increases, which results in monoculture farming.
- Vegetable Oil is a little bit tricky because different companies use different blends. Almost all soybean oil are GMO. Although sunflower or safflower oil is all GMO-free due to fear of cross-pollination with the wild population and the strict ban on GMOs in Europe, one of the world’s top producers.
Palm Oil Today:
In current news, in order to fulfill forest protection goals, the European Union approved a draft proposal to ban palm oil in biofuel at the beginning of 2021. In response, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister, Mah Siew Keong, threatens that if the ban is to be passed he would not rule out the possibility of Malaysia halting the import of goods from the EU and warned that the livelihood of over six million people could be badly affected.
Written by Samantha Sing