Palm oil touches our lives almost every day when we head to the supermarket, but how many of us actually know where it comes from and how it is produced? Or more importantly, how it’s affecting the rainforests and therefore our future environment?
This oil coming from the African palm tree is used in packaged foods, including ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups (just to begin with).
Today, almost all palm oil is produced in (and exported from) Indonesia and Malaysia. The problem is that this oil is not produced sustainably.
Huge areas of pristine rainforest are slashed and burned each day in order to make way for oil palm plantations. For example the forests of Borneo are disappearing with a speed of over 2,5 hectares of rainforest per minute (which is 1,5sq km every hour) due to deforestration. Important wildlife is killed in the process, so that this one vegetable oil can be used in many of our everyday foods and products. This large-scale deforestation is pushing so many beautiful species (of which orangutans are the symbol) to extinction in places like Borneo and Sumatra.
It is estimated that by 2022 over 98% of Indonesia’s rainforest will become destroyed because of palm oil if action is not taken. Rainforest destruction for palm oil expansion is spreading quickly to other valuable rainforest regions such as in Central Africa.
Destroying rainforests does not only mean that several beautiful creatures are driven to extinction, but indigenous people lose their home areas which affects their human rights. The rainforests hold so many species of plants that it’s even possible to find and create important medicines for the future (unless everything becomes destroyed). In addition, deforestation due to palm oil is accelerating global warming. For example in Indonesia, deforestation is responsible for around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
One huge problem related to palm oil is the fact that companies cheekily hide the name “palm oil” from their products. This means that many consumers who would like to help the environment end up blindly buying products that are unsustainable.
OK. So what can you do to avoid buying palm oil products? Here’s a couple of tips:
1. The most common name of palm oil is hidden under the name “vegetable oil”. If the product is made in Asia, it most likely contains palm oil.
2. Ingredients with the word “palm” in them contain palm oil.
3. If a product’s saturated fat content is over 40% of its total fat content, it will have palm oil in it.
4. Pre-packaged snack foods most likely contain palm oil in them.
5. If you are unsure about a product containing palm oil, just google it up with the word “palm oil” and see the search results!
Just to give you a shock, here’s a nice little list of only some of the famous products that contain palm oil!
- Ben & Jerry’s ice-creams
- Almost all MC Donald’s Foods
- Peanut butter
- Heinz soups, deserts, spaghettis, sauces & dressings
- Mars chocolate products such as M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Bounty, Maltesers
- Nestle Chocolate products
-Wrigley’s chewing gums
-Colgate-Palmolive products (shampoos, toothpaste, soaps…)
-Cheerios breakfast cereals, rice crispies, other Celloggs products
…and the list goes on!
The question is, do we really need all that?
I can easy stop eating unhealthy food that is destroying our rainforests.
What about you?