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Palm oil is everywhere, hiding behind different labels. So what's the downside?
Over the past few days, I've received a crash course on palm oil. There is so much shocking information out there on the negative environmental effects of palm oil harvesting, but perhaps most shocking of all was how little I knew about the issue before this. We've written a few times about the dangers associated with harvesting palm oil, but let me provide you with a brief overview for our readers who may be in the dark like I was.
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of the African oil palm tree and thrives in a tropical environment. The ideal environment for the African oil palm tree is about 10 degrees north or south of the equator, which explains why Indonesia and Malaysia lead the world in palm oil production. Palm oil is the most popular edible oil in the world as result of its long shelf life, cheap production costs, and profitable ratio of land to product.
These are just some of the many factors contributing to the growing demand for palm oil.
Palm oil is everywhere. It's nearly impossible to avoid palm oil products as it is in close to half of all packaged products in the supermarket, from bread to shampoo. To make matters worse, palm oil labelling is vague, as the product can be listed under a variety of different names including vegetable oil, sodium laureth sulfate, glyceryl stearate, and over 25 others.
The actual harvesting of palm oil causes some serious environmental damage. The growing demand for the product has brought with it the need for oil palm plantations, which require clear cutting of land and forests. It is estimated that by the year 2025, 26 million hectares of forests will have been cleared for the development of palm oil plantations.
This large scale deforestation has disrupted carbon-rich tropical peatlands, wiped out habitat for thousands of species, forced species into extinction or near extinction, and caused widespread human rights violations. Palm oil production has directly endangered the survival of the orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, and pygmy elephants just to name a few.
Predictions indicate the extinction of these species within the next 10 years if palm oil is to continue at the current rate. Additionally, palm oil plantation workers face extreme working conditions with limited legal resources and child labour is common in the industry.
This information is all out there, but the lack of traction on this issue is a little disheartening. We have reached the point where palm oil has infiltrated our lives to such an extent that it can appear to be nearly impossible to take action.