The True Costs of Palm Oil (+ Video)

The use of Palm Oil in consumer products has received quite a bit of media attention lately. Large corporates Cadbury and Fonterra have both been on the receiving end of criticism, due to the utilization of palm oil or by-products in their goods.

But do people really understand the true cost of the palm oil trade?

product selection Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world, with some estimates placing it in 10% of all US supermarket products on the shelf . You’ll find it in snacks, some instant noodles, candy and even soap and bathroom products .

Its widespread use is driving out the subsistence agriculture that people in Malaysia and Indonesia have depended on for generations . And as the demand for palm oil increases the palm oil plantations expand further and further into the rainforest, creating a swathe of total devastation.

Starting these plantations usually involves burning huge tracts of forest. Some researchers have estimated at least 75 years of biofuel production is needed from the plantations to save on emissions anything like the amount of carbon dioxide produced by this burning.  

palm oil destructionAnd, as though it wasn’t happening fast enough , the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture has recently announced a plan to double Indonesia’s crude palm oil production by 2020 .

Palm oil is one of the biofuels that give biofuels their bad name . And yet its been interesting to see how little action has been taken against it . It was excellent to see some evidence of corporate intolerance of this massive deforestation recently when the HSBC announced plans to drop a number of its forestry clients due to their unsustainable logging  and illegal land acquisitions relating to palm oil .

Its been harder to get people to make the link between what they buy in their supermarkets every day and the impact that is having on climate change and species habitat , and unnecessary destruction of rain forests in Malaysia and Indonesia . 

So its been interesting to watch the Rainforest Action Network’s latest campaign. One wonders if anything has been learned from the experience in Brazil .They’ve been thorough .

As they say themselves: 

“Stickering is the next step in an ongoing campaign to put pressure on companies that use palm oil. First, we asked you to identify products that contain palm oil. Hundreds of you went to your grocery stores and shared your findings with us.

Then, we sent letters to all those companies—over 300 of them—asking them to join us and put pressure on ADM, Bunge and Cargill to end rainforest destruction and put the brakes on climate change. Now, let’s show these companies that their customers are willing to take action to keep rainforest destruction palm oil out of our products.”

So they’ve started in the US , and are now going global, but will consumers help them realize the changes they are instigating?

If you would like to learn more about the palm oil trade, check out RAN's website.

More great articles on Celsias:

Activists Board Ship with Palm Oil Cargo

Malaysian Government Now Trashing Rainforests...In the Amazon

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4 comments

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Paul Beckman

I worked for cargill out of their Singapore offices for 7 years that saw the enormous expansion of the palm oil trade primiarily driven by logisitical fundamentals of Palm oil refining and origination. Cargill made a TONNE of money selling refined palm oil to Euro manufacturers like Unilever. They demand created in Europe/US (and the ability to make Cargill more profits) has driven the increase in acreage devoted to Palm Oil. And no one ever hears of the fallout issuse. As anyone in Singapore and KL can tell you during certain parts of the year the haze created from buring forest is like a heavy fog that stays for days. One year it was so bad that Cargill considered requests from expat managers to send their families back to the UK/US for health reasons.

Written in October 2009

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