Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia; but most of the time not using sustainable measures.
The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.
In total, tens of millions of tons of palm oil is produced annually, accounting for over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products in many developed countries like Australia. Palm oil can be present in a wide variety of products, including baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste.
Demand for palm oil has increased rapidly in recent decades. This boom in popularity can be attributed to a number of key qualities of the vegetable oil, namely its high efficiency, producing up to 10 times the amount of oil per hectare in comparison with other vegetable oil crops such as canola and soybean. Due to this high yield and the fact oil palms thrive in high-rainfall tropical climates, Malaysia chose to begin producing palm oil in the early 20th century followed by Indonesia some 60 years later. Palm oil soon became a desirable choice for manufacturers, as it was made widely available, had a cheap price tag (due to low production costs in South-East Asia) and is diverse in its uses.
In the years that followed, the impacts of palm oil production soon became apparent to the rest of the world and the oil became a highly controversial topic. Malaysia and Indonesia, now the two highest palm oil producing countries, continue to rapidly replace their abundant rainforests with oil palm plantations. This has lead to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) declaring the oil as the main driver of deforestation in both these countries. Such deforestation fuels wildlife smuggling, endangerment of species, pollution and land degradation, as well as displacement of indigenous communities, worker’s rights violations and child labour.
Though still eaten in Western Africa as an important part of basic food staple dishes, palm oil is used in a highly reformed form by most of the rest of the world and traded in an immeasurable amount of product ingredients. The majority of palm oil produced is primarily used by Asian countries, but the demand in Western Nations has boomed in recent decades.
Today, palm oil can be found in anything from cookies and ice-cream to shampoo and air freshener, and the average Western citizen consumes over 10kg of palm oil annually. A major problem is that most consumers are uninformed as to which products contain palm oil that is causing severe environmental and social implications. This is partly due to lack of regulations around the mandatory labeling of palm oil in many countries, leading to palm oil being labeled under more than 170 different names. Politicians, organisations and members of the public have fought hard in countries such as Australia to implement laws on the labeling of palm oil, but have been unsuccessful. This is often due to the government’s own political interests.
Continued in our next blog post.....
credit : www.saynotopalmoil.com