Palm Oil: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly! by Faith Canter
These days most people have heard of palm oil, even if it’s just to know that it’s an ingredient in food and beauty products. However, most people won’t know that this is only scratching the surface and that palm oil production is one of the largest businesses in the world. This then becomes a real concern when you hear about what goes into producing the palm oil you eat, use on your body and also as fuel – we use it almost every single day without even realising it.
Palm oil has been getting an incredibly bad name for itself in recent years and in my opinion rightly so. This product we use so freely is an ecological disaster, from before the palms have been planted right through to after the palms have died. Here I will tell you a little more about the stages of palm oil production and what this really means to our Planet.
Firstly the land needs to be cleared for the palm oil plantations. This is more often than not completed illegally, either by setting fires to burn down the rain forest and sometimes farms in its path and other times by simply ripping up trees and killing animals to clear the land. Rivers and water supplies are often also diverted for the palms, leaving local people and wildlife/plant life alike without this vital source of life.
Some palm oil plantation owners are now using logged or farm land to put their palms on instead of clearing the land themselves. This is marginally better, especially if it is farm land as this has often been cleared slowly over a period of time and animals are given the chance to move off the land. However, logged land has more often than not been cleared illegally and in the same way as mentioned above.
Whilst the palms are growing and being harvested animals and birds often try to move back into the area, this results in them being killed or caught (to make money) by the people in charge of the land. These people see beautiful animals such as elephants and orangutans as pests, even though this was their home first.
Whilst palms are growing they absorb a lot of nutrients from the surrounding soil. So much so that eventually even the palms have nothing to live on and die. This takes 10 to 15 years to happen and the land is then discarded and the plantation owners move on to pastures new. Unfortunately, due to the palms using up all the nutrients in the land, nothing else can live on it either, so this land becomes barren leaving nothing for any animals, birds or planet life to live on.
There is now a growing concern about palm oil and its production from all around the world. Many charities and organisations are being setup to help protect, promote and monitor what is going on. One of these organisations is called the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); this organisation was setup to encourage the production of sustainable palm oil. In theory this is a great organisation, they’re getting out there and trying to raise awareness of this issue and do something about this eco-logical disaster; however in practice little has changed.
Palm oil plantation owners have a choice if they would like to buy into the RSPO or any other Green Palm organisations. Once they buy into this they then have 5 years to become more sustainable palm oil producers.
So even though they can use the labelling from these organisations and say they are a member of these schemes they can still continue to destroy and exploit the land and the people for a further 5 years. This has become apparent in the news recently, where some members of these schemes have been found to still be illegally burning the land and killing wild animals.
Some companies however, do choose to become responsible members of these schemes and in doing so, they change the way they produce their palm oil, making sure the land is cleared as responsibly as possible, that farmers land is not stolen from them and that their workers are paid and treated fairly. Although this is a better option all round and is definitely a step in the right direction, it still goes nowhere to making palm oil sustainable. Maybe they should call these schemes something else, because any crop that completely destroys the land so nothing else (not even more of the crop) can grow on it, should not fall under the heading ‘sustainable’.
Local Farmers Projects:
There are now a few smaller and more eco-friendly companies out there like Dr Bonner who are trying to encourage and help local farmers to produce their own palm oil crops, rather than allowing the huge plantation owners to do as they please and destroy everything in their path. These companies help the farmer’s setup their own small plantations using their farm land and promise to pay them and their families /communities well for the crops produced.
This is a great scheme and clearly much better than any of the above, but it has one major flaw and that is that after 10-15 years the farmers palm oil will die-off as just as the plantation owners dies off and then these farmers are left with no palm oil crops and then also no land able sustain any other crops either once the palm oil has done its job of absorbing all essential nutrients from the land.
So what can you do?
Palm oil is such a cheap ingredient that it’s now in a huge percentage of food stuffs, body care products and home care products. From 2014 companies selling their products within the UK are going to have to start listing palm oil separately on the ingredients list, rather than just under the term ‘vegetable oil’ as many do at present. This means that, as a consumer, you will be able to easily identify products that contain this ingredient. You will then be able to make your own mind up if you want to use these products.
I urge people to start voting with their purses against the use of palm oil, there are many products out there that do not have this ingredient in it and these companies should rewarded with our business. Please consider writing to the others asking to hear their palm oil policies and showing that more and more people care where this ingredient comes from. You can also join one of the many charities out there trying to help orangutans and other animals being killed or injured through palm oil production.
Thanks for reading this article; I hope you’ve found it both informative and eye opening.
Regards Faith Canter
Founder of Let’s Make This World A Better Place
If you have any questions or would like to read some of the responses I have so far from companies on requesting their palm oil policy then please check out our facebook page:
This site has some great information about different names for palm oil, some of the many products palm oil is in and lots of videos
Greenpeace go into some more detail about more and more bio diesel with by coming from palm oil: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/palm-oil