What is Palm oil? Why is it Important?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the pulp of the fruit of an oil palm. It’s not that palm oil is particularly good for you as it is high in saturated fat but rather it doesn’t have any Trans fats and is very versatile in its use, so it is a popular oil for companies to use in their products. It’s so versatile because it can be processed to form a wide range of products with different melting points, consistencies and characteristics. Oil Palms are the most sustainable option, requiring 10 times less land than the other major oil producing crops: soya, rapeseed and sunflower, including all others combined (1.). They also have the lowest input requirements for fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides per tonne of production (2). Palm oil is used in many of the products we enjoy every day and accounts for about 35% of the world’s vegetable oil market. It is used by the Consumer retail food and snack manufacturers, the Personal care and cosmetics industry, for biofuel and energy, in Animal feed (palm kernel expeller), Pharmaceutical products and in the Industrial and Foodservice/service industries. It is in our cereal, our shampoo and conditioners, our toothpastes, packaged foods, cleaning products, personal care products, animal feed and biodiesel, etc. so it is difficult to avoid. Palm Oil plantations are located in Indonesia and Malaysia, making up about 85% of total production (3), but also countries like Thailand, Columbia, Nigeria, Ecuador, Guatemala and Papua New Guinea are also producing and increasingly their production of palm oil, as its demand grows.
So if it’s the most sustainable option, why is Palm Oil being boycotted by so many?
Palm oil production has caused widespread deforestation and community conflict where it is cultivated. And because the soil needs to be drained, the peat they use can get too dry and catch fire, and this has contributed to the annual environmental haze (3). In some areas, a large part of the orangutan’s habitat has been destroyed. These are due in large part to unsustainable farming practices that haven’t incorporated a larger ecological plan. But this is possible, in varying degrees, and is slowing being accomplished.
So what is being done about Unsustainable Palm Oil Farming Practices?
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) certification system has now been developed, much like a certified organic system, to identify those farms that adhere to sustainable ways to grow oil palms, which includes goals with zero deforestation, and halting expansions of peat based farms (5). Education of sustainable methods is key and RSPO is making steady progress (4). Larger companies like Nutella, and Ikea, Colgate-Palmolive and P& G (6) have made a commitment to using only sustainable palm oil in their products and if more companies focused on only using sustainably made, certified palm oil, then things would great improve.
What can we do to help the situation?
Many have chosen to boycott Palm Oil. This certainly sends a message to producers of Palm oil, but the potential challenge with this option is that it shifts the problem from a high-yielding crop to another less economical crop (to fit a new demand) but with the same ongoing unsustainable farming practices and it potentially causes more financial harm to the farmers themselves, driving more cost cutting measures.
Many have begun to change their lifestyle habits. Looking for the RSPO certification sticker on a product is one way. Also, although challenging, it is possible to buy products that don’t contain palm oil. You must be aware though that many products don’t say ‘palm oil’ on the label and instead use other names in the ingredient list, like:
Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl , Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Glyceryl, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, or Palmityl Alcohol.
If it just lists ‘vegetable oil’, a good way to know if the product you are using has palm oil in it is to look at the saturated fat content. If just vegetable oil is listed in the ingredients, but there is saturated fat present, then palm oil has been used.
As a consumer, you can also contact a company that uses Palm Oil and ask them to use certified sustainable palm oil from suppliers that have made a clear commitment to halt deforestation.
Earth Mind and Body Essentials sources its palm oil from only RSPO certified manufacturers and who are committed to sustainable and ethical farming practices that does not include deforestation. Earth Mind and Body Essentials also only uses Palm Oil sparingly and doesn’t use it in products excessively. Lastly, Earth Mind and Body Essentials is committed to finding ways to reduce everyday palm oil use in order to continue to give the industry the incentive and time it needs to improve and participate in the ongoing natural dependence we have on each other, with our beloved Mother Earth, and all the lovely creatures it inhabits.
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