Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil. It is the most commonly produced vegetable oil at 66 million tons. It comes from the palm fruit originally grown in West Africa. Today, 85% of palm oil is produced and exported from Malaysia and Indonesia. Over half of all imported palm oil into the EU is used as biofuel. It can also be found in roughly 50% of all household products.
In Indonesia, many small producers are starting palm oil production, attracted by the financial gain it represents. According to Dianto Bachriadi, founder of the NGO KPA, five million families live in this industry and some have seen their standard of living rise as a result of this culture.
The palm oil industry has been linked to a multitude of issues such as: deforestation, climate change, animal cruelty, and habitat degradation. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of roughly 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This in turn causes many animals in these rainforests to become extinct as they lose their habitats. Two main animals about to become extinct are orangutans and Sumatran tigers. Over 90% of the orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years.
Deforestation contributes significantly to the climate change. This is due to the burning of excess timber and undergrowth. This has been also one of the main reasons causing Indonesia to become the third highest emitter of greenhouse gas.
Current government policies in Malaysia and Indonesia are aimed more toward developing their palm oil industries as a method to enhance their economic development. Indonesia aims to almost double palm oil production by 2020 in response to the global demand. However, they are also trying to find methods of making the industry more sustainable.
The main problem is that palm oil plantations in both countries are consolidated, so they have a lot of capital and can buy influence. They lobby both governments to loosen environmental restrictions on the industry, so they can maximize their profits. They have cited the agreement that outside countries and NGOs should not impede their “right to develop”.
Across the boarders, it has been a failure of local governments to properly regulate this industry. Some foreign governments have made strides to reduce the environmental damage of the palm oil industry. The EU passed a ban to entirely phase out palm oil in the fuel by 2030. Unfortunately other major countries, like the US, have not followed suit just yet.
In the past few years, there has also been an upturn in private regulation. Global activism has caused a shift in major buyers of palm oil, like Cargill and Unilever. They have made commitments to cut links with deforestation and exploitation. However, there need to be a force in accountability with these commitments and a push for more companies to do the same.
You can act against palm oil! The best way is to avoid consuming products containing it. In general, most industrial products: cakes, ready-made meals, sauces, cosmetics... contain palm oil. Let's try to avoid them or read the labels and try to replace them with products without this oil. Therefore, choose products based on other oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, etc.
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