There has been a lot of publicity and campaigning involving Palm Oil recently, especially in relation to the mass deforestation and destruction of Orangutan habitats in Indonesia. An advert produced by Iceland was also banned as it was considered to be Political. What exactly is Palm Oil and why is it bad?
Palm Oil is a vegetable oil made from the red pulp of oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis Guineensis. Its red colour comes from its high concentration of Beta-Carotene, the same chemical responsible for the colour of carrots.
The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in parts of Indonesia to make space for oil-palm production. This has resulted in significant losses of the natural habitat of the three- surviving species of orangutan. The Sumatran orangutan has been listed as critically endangered. In 2004, an industry group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed to work with the palm oil industry to address these concerns. In 1992 the Government of Malaysia pledged to limit the expansion of palm oil plantations by retaining a minimum of half the nation’s land as forest cover. In March 2017, a documentary made by Deutsche Welle revealed that palm oil is used to make milk substitutes to feed calves in dairy farms in the German alps. These milk substitutes contain 30 percent milk powder and the remainder of raw protein made from skimmed milk powder, whey powder, and vegetable fats, mostly coconut oil and palm oil.
40% of Indonesia’s and 30% of Malaysia’s palm oil exports to Europe are used to fuel cars.
People who support the production of Palm Oil point to the amount of jobs it has created, the fact that the Palm Oil trees grow quickly and do not need as many pesticides as other plant oils. Environmental groups who are against the wide spread use of Palm Oil argue that Palm oil production is said to have been responsible for about 8% of the world’s deforestation between 1990 and 2008. Forests are burned to clear areas where people can grow oil palms – even if it’s illegal.
Burning forests like this destroys the places where plants and wildlife life thrive, reducing biodiversity. Orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers can be affected due to loss of habitat.
A report for the Bank of England, which was considering using palm oil in the production of the new £20 note, explained: “Forest fires, started to clear land for oil palm, release high levels of carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot) into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.”
Palm Oil does have health benefits. It has been used to prevent vitamin A deficiency, (a result of its high Beta-Carotene content), cancer, brain disease, aging; and treating malaria, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cyanide poisoning. Palm oil is used for weight loss and increasing the body’s metabolism. The main issue as always is the fact that as a species, Humans think that we can do what ever we want and the natural world has to adapt to us.