You Should Care About Palm Oil

You might have heard about palm oil recently, but you may not know what it is, or why it’s important to pressure companies to either find healthy alternatives or to source it responsibly if they’re too dependent on it.

For starters, palm oil is a massive reason why Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests are facing incredible rates of deforestation, and the reason they have the world’s longest list of endangered wildlife. Palm oil is the reason the Sumatran orangutan may be extinct in the next 150 years. The Sumatran tiger, rhino, and elephant are also critically endangered because of palm oil. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found in 2007 that “palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia.” Another study done by a Swiss institution and Princeton stated that “between 1990 and 2005, up to 60% of palm oil expansion occurred at the expense of primary tropical rainforests.” Palm oil plantations absolutely demolish rainforests and the demand for palm oil is only getting steeper.

In 2006, a U.S. government regulation required food labels to list its trans fat because it’s a major contributor to heart disease. Food processors decided to substitute trans fat with other oils like palm oil. Now, palm oil is used in practically everything. It’s in basically all of our packaged snacks, cookies, cosmetics and toiletries, soaps, shampoos, detergents, and toothpaste.

Unfortunately, it’s not much better than trans fat. Health authorities like the World Health Organization have indicated that palm oil promotes heart disease and urge people to reduce their intake of oils such as palm oil.

There’s a lot of labor abuse that goes into palm oil as well. Currently, the Rainforest Action Network is petitioning PepsiCo to stop turning a blind eye to their partner Indofood exploiting their workers on palm oil plantations.  According to the Rainforest Action Network, “Indofood is cheating its workers out of fair pay and benefits, threatening workers’ health with toxic chemicals, and compelling workers to hire children and bring their spouses to work through an unjust wage system.” If you would like to read the full article (which isn’t very long, I promise) and/or sign the petition, click here. A lot of these companies will force indigenous peoples out of their homes and then those people will get thrown in jail for protesting the situation. And the ones who try to go about it the legal way get ignored by the government for years.

There are easy ways to boycott palm oil, or at least seriously reduce your intake of it. There are two apps that you can download onto your phone that lets you scan the barcode of the item you’re wanting to purchase and they’ll tell you if it has palm oil in it. These apps are Buycott and Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping. I would recommend getting both. They work well together, but they both have their flaws. Buycott is easier to scan items with, but doesn’t tell you if the product has responsibly sourced palm oil or not. Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping takes a while scan, but if you find that an item has palm oil, it’s good to double check if it’s responsibly sourced. If you would like a full list of all the different names companies put palm oil under, click here.

Companies don’t think we care about sustainable palm oil. It has destroyed (and is still destroying) so much rainforest, it’s killing several different species, and companies treat their workers horribly and force indigenous people out of their homes. Their governments aren’t fighting for them, so it’s important for us to do so. Find petitions and sign them, boycott palm oil as much as you can; speak out somehow. Companies need to know that people care or they won’t stop their abuse.

Photo courtesy of CIAT.

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