Ruth is from Wales and has lived abroad for nearly 10 years, she enjoys her vegan lifestyle, loves animals and hopes to inspire others along the way. Her new blog is up and running at http://ruthculbreth.wordpress.com
Have you ever felt like this Bradley Cooper lookalike? Stressing to the brink of a nervous breakdown that everything you buy, everything you love, everything you need isn’t ethical? No? God you are lucky!
Palm oil is probably the most infamous oil right now and for some it sets off a niggling feeling that they shouldn’t be buying it but it is in everything, so what can one do?
Actually, that wasn’t too far from my head space most of the time on this issue: Palm Oil is in 50% of supermarket products, and this includes everything from washing powder to ice cream to toothpaste to shampoo, as well as a ton of packaged foods.
Palm Oil is also not always labelled ‘Palm Oil’ on the ingredients list, it actually has over 200 alternative names and they can be legally used by companies who, of course, take full advantage of this.
However, luckily for those in the EU, a recent legislation has abolished synonyms and ordered companies to label a product for what it is.
Unluckily for those in the EU, we consume over 6.6 million tonnes of Palm Oil compared to 1.2 million tonnes consumed by the USA.
Some articles that I’ve read were so saturated with difficult and sometimes incomprehensible vocabulary and phrasing that it is of little wonder why people with full-time jobs or busy schedules don’t fully realise the terrible things that are happening because of this oil.
I will try and make this post as clear and easy to digest as possible so that we can all be fully mindful of the terrible devastation that is caused by the use of Palm Oil.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm Oil is an edible vegetable oil taken from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm trees, originally from Africa but exported to South East Asia in the 20th century. During the British Industrial Revolution, the demand for Palm Oil started to grow significantly as the oil was used in anything from candle-making to industrial lubricants.
The demand began at approximately 250,000 tonnes annually rising to the 60,000,000 tonnes used today.
Palm Oil is cheap and versatile, as demonstrated in the numerous products that it is in today, and a huge amount of Palm Oil can be produced: from 1 hectare of land approximately 3.82 tonnes of oil can be produced per year.
In other words, from one international rugby pitch (for the fellow Welsh readers) or American football field, 8428 pounds of oil can be produced compared to 756 pounds of Coconut Oil. This is simply why big businesses love to use Palm Oil.
Where is Palm Oil from?
As I previously wrote, Palm Oil originally came from Africa but since the 20th Century it has been produced largely in South East Asia. A food naturally derived from one part of the world and then transported to somewhere else should already raise alarm bells about its suitability in that area.
Now 85% of Palm Oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, the islands with the most bio-diverse tropical forests found on earth, and the industry wipes out an estimated 300 American football-field-sized rainforests per hour, home to rare plants, endangered wildlife and indigenous people.
What are the environmental effects of Palm Oil?
‘There isn’t an I in T.E.A.M’. Humans have co-existed on Earth with so many other different species for thousands of years and yet we have done it alone. We have let our ego control us and we haven’t stopped to look at the destruction that we have left on the path behind.
Indonesia is the third highest greenhouse gas emitting country because of the Palm Oil industry. It seems cutting down 300 football fields worth of rainforest trees every hour releases a lot of carbon dioxide, which the trees have been keeping safe from us. This toxic carbon rapidly speeds up climate change and if we don’t act now and we keep things as they are, climate change will be the cause of human extinction.
The Palm Oil industry also causes water pollution, as well as soil erosion, a not-so-well-known problem that is destroying the very fabric of how we and other species survive.
“The threat of nuclear weapons and man’s ability to destroy the environment are really alarming. And yet there are other almost imperceptible changes – I am thinking of the exhaustion of our natural resources, and especially of soil erosion – and these are perhaps more dangerous still, because once we begin to feel their repercussions it will be too late,” p144 of The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Inner Peace.
In nature, soil is moved around by water and wind at the same rate as new soil is produced therefore causing little issue, however, agriculture and human’s desire for profit has been a catalyst to this process which rids of important and nutrient rich topsoil that plants and crops need to live and grow.
When I started researching Palm Oil, the one thing that I couldn’t get my head around was: why do we have to continually take rainforest land when we have so much of it already? Then I found the answer… Hallelujah!
The Palm Oil Industry (I cannot say all of it of course) is in bed cuddled up nice and tight with the timber industry. There is a pattern found between Palm Oil plantation and illegal logging, and with 20 million hectares of abandoned land in Indonesia that could be used for Palm Oil production that is obviously ignored, one can only assume the worst.
The obvious environmental effects are of grave concern and affect all walks of life, from humans to flora to fauna, and as a vegan it is hard for me not to point out the suffering of wildlife.
The Rhinoceros, the Sunbear, the Pygmy Elephant (please read this article on the deaths of a group of elephants two years ago,) the Clouded Leopard, the Proboscis Monkey, the Sumatran Tiger along with the more famous Orangutan, are all animals heavily affected by the Palm Oil Industry in devastating ways.
This beautiful episode on Nature of the Orangutan’s plight will offer an insight into what is happening: in 5-10 years these ‘People of the Jungle’ will more than likely be extinct.
It is important to note that some seeds that we rely on can only be germinated through the Orangutan’s gut, with the deaths of more and more of these animals, the less chance we have of survival.
What can be done?
Reading more and more about sustainable Palm Oil and the efforts of the WWF to collaborate with plantations and manufacturers to create the RSPO (Roundtable on Stainable Palm Oil) seemed like an answer, as demonstrated in the video at the beginning, but unfortunately it isn’t the way to go.
Greenpeace is highly sceptical of sustainable Palm Oil and I have to say so am I.
Here is the deal, most companies greenwash, which means they spend more money on advertising they are Green than actually being Green!
RSPO supplies a number of ‘Green’ certificates to plantations that can prove they are sustainable, certificates are given to equal the amount of tonnes of Palm Oil made. The plantations are then able to sell these certificates to ANYONE ($10 being the going rate,) the main buyer being companies who then claim they use sustainable Palm Oil even though they have no idea where their particular Palm Oil comes from.
And the funniest thing of all, is that the commonly used processed Palm Oil isn’t even that good for us! Granted the fresh Palm Oil is, but that isn’t what we get in the majority of products with Palm Oil that we buy.
Palm Oil is used as a replacement for Trans Fats so that companies can write ‘0g Trans fats’ on their label, but Palm Oil has as much saturated fat as butter, something we shouldn’t be eating a lot of.
Avoid Palm Oil as often as you can. Nature is a beautiful thing that relies heavily on team work. The sad reality is that if humans disappeared nature would thrive, if other species disappeared we would die.
It is difficult to pinpoint the moment in which we were able to completely ignore the cries of our environment but we have, and if we don’t turn back soon then I am afraid Palm Oil in our eye liner is the least of our worries.