Should I be worried about palm oil?

Even if you’re not entirely sure what palm oil is, chances are you’ve probably heard rumblings about its environmental impact, and you will have almost certainly consumed it – whether you were aware of it at the time or not.

But what is it, why is it so controversial, and should you be worried about it? Here’s what you need to know…

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from oil palm trees. These tropical plants are native to Africa, but are now widely industrially farmed, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia (85% of the world’s palm oil supply actually comes from these two nations alone) while another 42 countries also produce it.

There are two types: crude palm oil, made from the fruit; and palm kernel oil, made from crushing the stone in the centre of the fruit.

This is what palm oil seeds look like (iStock/PA)

This is what palm oil seeds look like

How is palm oil used?

Because it’s so versatile, palm oil turns up in almost everything. Around 50% of all consumer products contain it, be it ice cream or biscuits, packaged bread or pizza (it can help stop the dough sticking apparently). And it’s not just foodstuffs – shampoo, lipstick, even deodorant can all feature it on their ingredients list.

The problem is, palm oil can be a very useful ingredient – it’s neutral, so doesn’t change the colour, taste or smell of food, it helps make things spreadable and has preserving properties, plus it works wonders in fried food you want super crispy.

How is palm oil a problem?

While it helps in making consumer products, and makes tonnes of money for corporations, palm oil is a major driver of environmental disaster.

Much of Indonesia’s invaluable rainforest habitats – home to endangered Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants and orangutans – have been bulldozed and cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. This deforestation not only affects native wildlife, flora and fauna, it also wipes out swathes of carbon sinks – fewer trees means more C02 in the atmosphere. Plus, Indonesia’s rainforests are largely peat-based (and peat stores a lot of carbon too) – palm oil companies drain the peat to prepare the land for planting palms. And clearing those trees in the first place also adds to greenhouse gas emissions.

Then there is the human cost. There are reports of locals and indigenous communities being forced off their land, and workers, including child labour, being used and exploited.

What can you do?

To start with, always check the label on whatever you’re buying. If a product does contain palm oil, look for the RSPO standard – a marker of sustainable palm oil (although this is still arguably problematic). If it’s missing, ask the brand why they aren’t using sustainable palm oil, and request they change their practices.

You can also support campaigns and charities – like Greenpeace – who are lobbying governments and companies to act responsibly, and take deforestation and the damage caused by unsustainable palm oil, seriously.

The following two tabs change content below.

The Press Association

News from the Press Association - the national news agency for the UK and Ireland

Leave a Comment!

Not a member?

You need to be a member to interact with Silversurfers. Joining is free and simple to do. Click the button below to join today!

Click here if you have forgotten your password
16th Feb 2020
Thanks for voting!
The pursuit of money is behind this destruction. If you want to discourage this kind of destruction, then adopt and advocate the culture of frugality.

Community Terms & Conditions

Content standards

These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.

You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.

Contributions must:

be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.

Contributions must not:

contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.

Nurturing a safe environment

Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.

We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!