Palm oil and its production have been a source of controversy for many years. It is present in about 50% of the products we buy as consumers every day. Unfortunately, because of its importance and high demand, it is being exploited. As a result, entire ecosystems are being destroyed and its production supports unfair human rights practices.


What is Palm Oil?

We’ve all heard of palm oil and seen it in the news occasionally, but what exactly is it? Palm oil comes from the oil palm, a species of tree that originates from West Africa but can now be found in most tropical regions. In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia are the two leading exporters of palm oil and are responsible for more than 80% of the world’s supplies. The oil itself is similar to vegetable oil and is obtained from the fruits and seeds of the tree. If you are wondering which products contain palm oil, you will find it in most processed foods. Due to its versatile nature, manufacturers use palm oil to improve the texture and colouring of a product. It can also help bind ingredients together better and make the cooking process faster. In addition to food products, you’ll also find palm oil present in some shampoos, soap, perfume and lipsticks.


So Why is Palm Oil Bad?

Your next question might be, why has palm oil got such a bad name? It sounds excellent and has many uses! This is true, but, unfortunately, its excessive production and over-exploitation have led to entire forests being destroyed. The reason why so many palm oil trees get cleared is that they grow to a height that makes it challenging to obtain the oil from them. Therefore, so many producers remove these mature tall trees and replant newer ones that they can more easily extract palm oil from as they grow. This deforestation has a devastating effect on the earth’s capability to collect CO2, leaving the planet more vulnerable to global warming and the impact of climate change. In addition, it is also destroying habitats of wildlife that rely on palm oil trees for survival. Burning the ground is a common way to prepare land for replanting more palm trees; however, these fires often destroy wildlife habitats and ruin the forest’s biodiversity.


Are Brands Doing Enough to Avoid Using Palm Oil in Their Products?

So what are big brands doing to stand up to the unethical production of palm oil? One big brand proudly advertising that all of their own brand stocked products are 100% palm oil-free is Iceland. However, other big brand names, such as M&S and Waitrose haven’t gone palm oil-free. Instead, all their products containing palm oil are RSPO certified. This means when they need to use palm oil in products, it comes from a responsible producer who is working to prevent deforestation and protect the biodiversity of the forest their palm oil came from.


Are there Alternatives to Palm Oil?

While other oils out there act as a suitable substitute for palm oil, for example, coconut oil in cosmetics, its wide use across many product types means it is hard to completely eliminate the use of palm oil products from our lives. Where alternatives can’t be found, making sure that the products consumers buy come from responsibly sourced palm oil plants, can help in the fight against unsustainable production and deforestation to protect our forests for future generations.

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