Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil. Originally from Africa this product is now produced in Africa and Asia as well as North and South America.
In America, Canada, England and Australia it is estimated that 40-50% of processed products contain palm oil. Estimates suggest that each person in the western world consumes 10kg’s of palm oil each year.
As no regulation is in place at the moment palm oil has been listed under 170 different names across the world.
What’s the issue?
Palm oil has been identified as a major cause of environmental issues especially in Indonesia and Malaysia where 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced.
Environmental Issues associated with palm oil production include
- Climate Change and
- Wildlife trafficking
Deforestation occurs when the rainforest is removed to create space for the palm oil plantations. High rainfall is needed for the palm trees to grow. This is abundant in rainforests.
Currently it is estimated that 55 football fields of rainforest per hour is being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. This greatly reduces the area available for animals to roam in and find mates in.
Land clearing also increases landslides and river pollution. This is because the land falls apart as the tree roots are no longer holding it together.
- Climate Change
One of the quickest ways to clear the forest is by burning it. When this is done large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2)are released into the atmosphere.
This is especially true for palm oil plantations built on peat swamps. These swamps are major stores of carbon dioxide. When they are drained and the trees are removed all of this carbon dioxide is released into the environment.
- Wildlife Trafficking
As palm oil plantations are created in the forest access roads to these are created. This makes access to the forest easier for poachers. The roads make it easier for them to reach the forests and take away baby tigers, orang-utans and bears.
Many animals also die in the deforestation process. As the forest is burnt some animals do not escape and are burnt to death. If it is cleared by logging many animals are shot and some babies are taken.
These babies end up in a market where they are sold to anyone. These people take home their cute baby animal which then grows up. Slowly it becomes uncontrollable and these people dispose of the animal through death or release. If it is lucky it will go to a rehabilitation centre and one day be released if suitable forest is left.
Some bears that are not sold as pets become bile bears. These bears sit in a cage not much bigger than themselves as a tube pumps the bile out of their stomach. This is used in traditional medicines and dishes.
Is there a solution?
Yes a solution does already exist.
In 2004 the roundtable on sustainable pail oil (RSPO) was formed. This is a cooperative venture between the WWF, Aarhus United UK Ltd, Migros, Malaysian Palm Oil and Unilever. Its first meeting was attended by 200 participants. These representatives came from 16 countries.
The first meeting looked to get these people to sign the Statement of Intent. This statement looked to have members express support for the roundtable. By late 2004 47 organisations had signed the statement. As such the roundtable began.
The RSPO are the people who certify sustainable palm oil. They issue a trademark which can be used to show that the product uses certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). About 14% of the palm oil now sold is certified sustainable.
Certification means that the palm oil was not grown on land cleared after 2005. They also have to comply with 8 guidelines which are set out by the RSPO.
4 different supply chains can contribute to sustainable palm oil. These are-
1. Preserved certified sustainable palm oil-This palm oil is certified palm oil which is kept separate from all other palm oil and only comes from one farm. This is the only palm oil which goes into the product which claims to use it.
2. Segregated CSPO-Segregated CSPO is where it comes from separate sources but all of these are certified sustainable.
3. Mass balance CSPO- Mass balance takes a majority of CSPO and mixes it with some non-sustainable palm oil. As such the palm oil assists in producing more CSPO.
4. Book and Claim CSPO (Green Palm)- Green palm is a certificate trading scheme. The buyer buys non-sustainable palm oil at a premium price. The extra money goes to a CSPO provider.
What can you do to help?
There are many ways you can help make a difference in the lives of hundreds of animals who are dying due to the creation of palm oil plantations
The first thing you can do is attempt to buy as little palm oil as possible. This can be difficult but there are now many resources out there that can help you find out what products are palm oil free. You can also have a look at the palm oil scorecard from the WWF. This list ranks companies on how little unsustainable palm oil they use. You can find the scorecard here: WWF-Scorecard
Palm oil labelling should be mandatory and you can help with this. Send a letter to your local member of parliament asking them to make the labelling of palm oil mandatory.
You can also check out some of these great resources or campaigns
Melbourne Zoo-Don’t Palm Us Off
wwf, (2014). What is palm oil?. [online] Available at: http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
Orangutans.com.au, (2014). About Palm Oil. [online] Available at: http://www.orangutans.com.au/Orangutans-Survival-Information/About-Palm-Oil.aspx [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
Jane Goodall Institute Australia, (2012). Palm Oil – Jane Goodall Institute Australia. [online] Available at: http://www.janegoodall.org.au/palm-oil/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
By oneVillage Initiative [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons