Palm Oil - At what Price?

Palm Trees

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the fruit of oil palm trees. These oil palms are usually grown across the equator but mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia which account for more than 90% of palm oil production today. Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semi-solid at room temperature. Like most plant-based products, palm oil contains very little cholesterol. Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is widespread because of its lower cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. Palm oil became a highly sought-after commodity by British traders, for use as an industrial lubricant for machinery during Britain's Industrial Revolution. 

Palm oil is used across the world due to its versatility. It can be found in a wide range of things including food, cleaning products, makeup, toothpaste. shampoo, ice cream, margarine, lipstick and candles. You would easily find it in many of your household products and have probably used it today. 

Only a few manufacturers (mostly in the organic sector) label their products as containing palm oil and palm fat. Most companies disguise it, referring to it as ‘vegetable oils and fats’. Almost half of palm oil consists of saturated fats, known to cause high cholesterol and heart disease, and are generally regarded as a cause of obesity. Palm oil contains fatty acid esters that are considered carcinogenic. Concentrations of such hazardous substances are especially high in refined palm oil. 

The oil palms grow in low lying wet tropical areas – exactly where the rain forests grow. Palm oil production is also responsible for human rights violations as corporations often forcefully remove Indigenous Peoples and rural communities from their lands. Plantations are often put in place without consulting the people who live in the forest or depend on the land for their livelihoods. Tragically, child labour and modern day slavery still occur on plantations in both Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations. These former forest regions store huge quantities of carbon dioxide in living wood mass. Once it is cut down and burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.  

It is also destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants, tigers and Orang Utans. Even today as you read this, rain forest areas are being wiped out to the equivalent of 300 soccer fields being destroyed every hour. makes you stop and think eh? ... 

Sumatran Tiger