What is palm oil and why should we care about it?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the mesocarp (middle of the fruit) that comes from, you guessed it, the oil palm trees. Now, how can something so simple create so much controversy and be accused of driving negative effects on the world? Let’s dive in.
Mass production of palm oil has severe negative effects
Palm oil has been the leading driver of deforestation in some of the world’s largest and most diversified forests. In addition to dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions, animal habitats including orangutans, rhino and, pygmy elephants have been destroyed. The demand for mass production of palm oil also creates a stress on suppliers to continuously increase their output. Because of this (and other labor oversight issues in countries with high output) the palm oil manufacturing industry has been accused of using child labor and exploiting their workers in various inhumane ways.
Special Interest Groups have their sites set on a sustainable future
There has been a large effort by special interest groups to help create standards for sustainable palm oil production and to red flag groups who are operating unethically. One such group is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which aims to certify palm oil supply chain members based on specific criteria outlined in their business practices. The RSPO identified 7 different sectors of the palm oil industry and developed a set of environmental and social criteria that companies must comply with to remain RSPO certified.
Solutions for consumers
So, how can you ensure you’re not aiding unethically sourced palm oil? There’s a few roads you can go down here. You can stop using palm oil entirely – a decision that will create an unbearable amount of friction in your everyday life. As an alternative, you can become more conscious of where the palm oil in your products comes from. As mentioned earlier, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that was established in 2004 has been trying to increase the awareness of the impacts that palm oil has not only on the workers but also on the environment. RSPO certified palm oil is indicated through their certification label.
You can also identify any naming aliases that companies use to identify the use of palm oil in their products. Palm oil goes by other names like: Vitamin A Palmitate. This is an added ingredient to many cereals and non-fat milk to help boost the Vitamin A by 10%. Another common word is “palm kernel oil” which is commonly found in baking ingredients.