What is Palm Oil? What is it used for?
Before we discuss the problems with palm oil and the industry, I think understanding what palm oil is and what it is used for is important to understand. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that is derived from the mesocarp (middle layer) of the fruit of the oil palms. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant.
Palm oil is used in many different products, not just in food production products, but also household and personal care products. It can be found in the majority of products that you pick up. It’s main purpose is that it has a high resistance to oxidation, which means that it has a high shelf life.
So Why Shouldn’t you buy products with palm oil?
Palm oil, itself, is not the issue. It’s the way they harvest Palm Oil. Most companies do not harvest palm oil sustainably. Like any other commodity with a high demand, environments where these commodities exist naturally are destroyed. Trees are cut down, and anything in the way is likely to be killed. The way they harvest is by pumping the plant with pesticides, which leads to the killing of the plant, and then they plant new oil plants.
Impacts on the Environment: Most palm oil is harvested in Indonesia, which means that because of the carbon dioxide that is released into the air when trees are burned, this is contributing to our ever increasing climate change issue, it also causes air pollution which has become an issue in Singapore. Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered, and this is all as a result of the unsustainable way of harvesting this plant, and the deforestation and destruction of these species’ habitats. The UN has listed this as a conservation emergency. Another way this is an issue, is that quite recently boats that were transporting the oil leaked into the ocean. The loss of these trees, plants, and species greatly affects the healthiness of the ecosystem and climate change.
Impacts on Animals: Not only is the destruction of these habitats a tremendous concern (90% of the habitat for the Orangutans have been destroyed), but the people harvesting this plant have killed and slaughtered animals, with their bulldozers, their machetes, and their guns. They have also been known to abduct these animals and sell them on the black market, where they are bought and sold as illegal pets.
Impacts on People: People live in the region where they are harvesting. Indigenous people have had their land and their homes destroyed. Their home is taken away by the government because the financial gain is just too high, apparently. The industry has also been linked to many major human rights violations, including child labor, and as I’ve mentioned, the air pollution, even in Singapore, have increased drastically, making it harder for people to breathe.
What can you do?
One major thing that you can do, is to read your labels. Don’t buy products, even household cleaning and beauty products, that have palm oil listed as an ingredient. You can also stop supporting companies that harvest palm oil unsustainably. You may see a product that does not have palm oil, but if it’s a company that supports and uses unsustainable harvesting techniques, then you are still supporting the industry. It’s important to do your own research before heading to the store.
Here is a list of some major companies that use little to no transparency, and do not harvest palm oil sustainably:
-Mondelez – Owns brands like Oreo, Ritz, and Nutterbutter
-Kellogg’s – Own brands like Pop-Tarts & Nutrigrain
-General Mills – Owns brands like Pillsbury & Nature Valley
-Heinz – Owns brands like Smart Ones
-Pepsico – Owns brands like Quaker
-Kraft – Owns brands like Cool-Whip & Jell-o
-Proctor & Gamble – Owns brands like Covergirl and Old Spice
-Estee Lauder- Owns brands like Clinique and Bumble & Bumble
-Clorox- Owns brands like Burt’s Bees (major bummer for me)
Don’t even think about stopping at a fast food joint. None of them currently use sustainable methods. Find more companies and brands and their ranking here.
Other names for palm oil:
Like other toxic and morally unethical ingredients, other names are created and used to hide from consumers. It has been found that over 200 alternate names for palm oil exist, which can make it rather difficult, if not impossible to avoid this ingredient. I like to carry a list with me on my phone.
-Palm Kernel Oil
-Palmitate (Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate)
-Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Other things you can do is use your voice. Educate others on this issue. This is something we should be conversing about more. We need to put pressure on these companies to invest and use sustainable sources and methods. The destruction and harm to the environment, animals, and people are not worth the quick indulgence of our food, cleaning products, and household products.