Nourished Journal

What's the big deal with palm oil?

Jun 24, 2018

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Palm Oil. Most of us don’t know what it is, or where it comes from. But almost all of us consume palm oil on a daily basis. 

Palm oil has become such a controversial ingredient. On one hand, it is one of the most sustainable processes for oils to be extracted. And the other hand, the demand is so big that it has been overused and done so much harm to the environment by exploiting the land and animals.

Palm Oil is derived from the palm fruit grown on the African Oil Palm Tree & is the most widely used vegetable oil on earth. In fact, it is so common that it is contained within 50% of all packaged products, from chocolate to washing detergents to makeup. With this figure set to climb alongside the growth of the human population and global wealth due to its affordability and wide range of applications.

What is the problem with Palm Oil?

Oil Palms are grown in warm, humid climates with 85% of palm oil being grown and produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. Whilst this contributes significantly to their economies, creating extensive employment and reducing poverty, this is more often than not at tremendous cost to the environment.

The environmental impacts of palm oil production can be distilled into three major concerns:

  • Loss of Habitat - large scale deforestation to make way for oil palm plantations is without a doubt the biggest concern of palm oil production. Leaving hundreds of thousands of endangered species homeless including Elephants, Orangutans, Tigers and Asian Rhinos. Over 90% of Orangutan habitat has been destroyed in Borneo and Sumatra in the last 20 years with an estimated 1000-5000 Orangutan's being killed each year for this development and as such, is considered “a conservation emergency” by the United Nations. 
  • Air, Soil & Water Pollution - Smoke produced from ‘burning off’ practices create respiratory & other health concerns. Fertilisers and pesticides used during farming often run off into surrounding streams & rivers polluting fresh water sources, and are also absorbed into the ground causing soil and ground-water contamination. Both water & soil pollution affects biodiversity which impacts the ecosystem for animals and humans alike. 
  • Global Warming - Burning of invaluable forest undergrowth and timber is common practice in the clearing of native forests to make way for development for oil palm plantations. This practice results in huge quantities of carbon dioxide being emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, making Indonesia the world’s third highest greenhouse gas emitter.     

Whilst palm oil production has major, devastating effects on the environment and animal kingdom, we mustn’t forget the impact that it is also having on people. Although being responsible for bringing development to many poverty stricken areas and creating employment, the palm oil industry has been linked to many human rights violations including child labour, unsafe & degrading working conditions and paying below acceptable wages. Indigenous owned land has also been sold to big companies by these countries governments in their prioritisation of profits over people, affecting indigenous life and culture.

What you can do to help?

- Purchase products from companies that are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO)

- Tell the companies that make your favourite products that you want to see them to become members of the RSPO and use CSPO rather than conventional Palm Oil.

We must never underestimate the power that consumers have through the conscious choice of where to put their money and thus what companies and practices they support.  

Nourished only stocks products from brands with a commitment to the responsible use of palm oil. Any Palm oil used must be from a proven sustainable source.