When I was younger we visited Malaysia two or three times per year to stay with my Nenek (Grandma) and the extended family. Tasty Malay food was always the spread, all of which was cooked up in palm oil. And rightly so; it was versatile, locally sourced and cheap. The palm tree was, and is, part of the culture. Western food was only just creeping into the diet, so at that time locals could afford to eat palm oil, from a health point of view.
Now that was just 20 years ago. Fast forward to 2013, and the palms have hit the fan, so to speak.
Malaysia and Indonesia produce 90 percent of palm oil worldwide and need to keep up with global demand. Production of palm oil increased from 40 percent of all vegetable oils traded in 2002 to 65 percent in 2006. Worldwide demand for palm oil is expected to double again by 2020.
But it’s not an explosion in popularity of laksa, curry puffs and sago dessert that has caused this boom in interest. Rather it’s the growing use of palm oil in our everyday shelf-food products, though it’s often labelled as vegetable oil. Unfortunately, what’s affordable for locals is dirt cheap for Big Food.
You can find palm oil in your Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Kit Kat bars, your Dove soap and Colgate toothpaste, and almost everything in between, too.
Here are 5 reasons why you need to boycott products that use palm oil:
1. Sustainable palm oil (RSPO) is violating its own pledges.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed almost ten years ago by the palm oil industry and civil society groups, including conservation groups like the WWF, for more eco-friendly oil production. These days 15 percent of palm oil produced is certified as “sustainable” by the RSPO. Unfortunately it has been reported that RSPO are not keeping their pledges by “violating the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in the forests and peatlands of tropical nations worldwide.”
2. Deforestation for palm plantations is out of control.
According to the United Nations, 98 percent of Indonesia’s forests may be destroyed by 2022, and it’s largely due to the demand for further palm plantations. Such a fast loss of carbon-rich forests has led to Indonesia becoming “one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses.”
In fact, the environmental impact of deforestation coupled with running palm plantations country-wide has left Indonesia ranked third in the world for carbon dioxide emissions.
3. Orangutans are disappearing in record numbers.
The relentless destruction of rainforest is leaving many animals homeless, including orangutans. Meet Strawberry, the orangutan with an important message for those of us with palm oil products in the pantry.
4. Tigers, rhinos and elephants are all critically endangered, too.
In 1978, there were 1,000 Sumatran tigers on the island. Just 30 years on and there’s estimated to be less than 400 left. Experts believe there are less than 200 Sumatran rhinos left and only 2,500 elephants (contrast that with half a million elephants in Africa). This is all because of the destruction of their native habitat.
Why should all these animals have to die just so we can eat a block of Cadbury?
If you have a spare 8 minutes, do yourself a favour and watch this:
5. Palm oil does not trim the waistline.
It’s no secret that palm oil is not the healthiest ingredient. Put in the context of today’s ballooning populations that are looking down the barrel of chronic disease, palm oil is something we can now do without.
Everyone loves good value food — the feeling experienced when we get a good deal on commercial products — but this is what it really costs.
To get you thinking about your own impact on palm oil plantations, why not check to see how many products in your kitchen cupboard list palm oil on the ingredients list (sometimes listed as vegetable oil).
Photo Credit: Thinkstock