Annalise Draws for Greenpeace
This post is all about palm oil, something that is found in nearly all junk food and most bars of soap in England and beyond. You have likely heard about how the palm industry is destroying the habitats of orangutans and other endangered creatures in Indonesia, but perhaps you are not aware of just how misleading the term ‘sustainable palm oil’ is, and how its use within the food industry is sending our furry orange cousins extinct.
The Independent reports that scientists say ‘sustainable palm oil’ is making things worse, as land growing it is being destroyed even faster, they call it ‘greenwashing’. Recently Iceland supermarket was in the headlines, after the CEO pledged to remove palm oil from all own brand products, but then removed the ‘own label’ on 17 products, to continue to sell them.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a cheap oil that is imported from Asia, to be used in most junk food products, many artisan food items (including vegan butters) and also is used in making most bars of soap. It is also found in fabric conditioner, cleaning products, beauty items and chips.
It has become widely used of late, due to the concern over ‘hydrogenated fats’, which people started to avoid for health reasons (like ‘trans fats’ in margarine). The problem is that palm oil is causing widespread destruction to forests, and is also not healthy anyway (it contains saturated fat, the type we are not supposed to eat). But it’s used because it’s cheap (companies could easily substitute with rapeseed oil to support the local economy, but won’t because it costs more).
The other issue is that it’s not local (neither is coconut oil, which is often used as a replacement). We are asked to ‘support the local economy’ in Asia, but killing orangutans negates that; ecotourism would be a far better income, and buying our own oils here better. Both oils are obviously flown over here, and that creates more carbon emissions, which is causing climate change, which further harms the habitats of all creatures on earth.
Why does Palm Oil Affect Orangutans?
This amazing photo (Bored Panda) is of an orangutan who (seeing a man in a lake full of deadly snakes – the man was there to move them on, as he knew they could harm the orangutans) reached out his/her hand to help. He did not take the hand as he did not want to tame the orangutan. But it shows the intelligence and kindness of these amazing creatures. And in return, humans are killing them off for a mince pie or bag of crisps.
And it’s not just orangutans who are suffering. Other animals like endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and moon bears, also are having their habitats destroyed by the palm oil industry. They live in tropical forests. And so when more palm oil is needed, the businesses move in and tear down their forests, to build cheap fast-growing plantations.
The problem is that then there are no homes for these creatures to live in. Solitary orangutans often have babies, and will defend them to the death. So they often die, leaving the well-known ‘orangutan orphanages’ or ‘forest schools’ to pick up the tragic pieces. Some have been found burned to death, and recently Hope the orangutan was shot 74 times, stabbed and left blinded (and her baby killed), just so merchants could get more land to build palm oil plantations.
What is ‘Sustainable Palm Oil?’
This is the term now used everywhere. A few years ago when people were none the wiser, all the junk food companies would list items with ‘vegetable oil’. When people cottoned on, they now have to list the oil, so now say it’s ‘sustainable palm oil’. The main term used is RSPO (round table on sustainable palm oil). But this is nothing legally binding, just a self-policed buzz phrase from the companies that sell the palm oil. Greenpeace say that many RSPO companies are not producing truly sustainable palm oil, and some ‘certified plantations’ have been found to be destroying rainforests.
Palm oil is used for profit, not to save the planet. Half of all processed supermarket foods now contain it, and it’s obvious that at those levels, unsustainable palm oil is going to slip through the cracks. The palm oil is imported from countries with endangered tropical species. Again we know that for some, the laws are going to be bent or broken for profit, and supermarkets won’t be able to do anything about it. The land runs out at present consumption rates, so new land has to be found, and it can’t all be all free from endangered wildlife.
Eventually something has to give. Half the population of Borneo’s orangutan has gone in 16 years, and over 75% of Indonesia’s national park has become illegal palm oil plantations (previously home to orangutans, elephants and tigers). 193 critically endangered species are at risk of extinction, due to the production of palm oil.
There is no such thing as ‘certified sustainable palm oil’, and Greenpeace says this term is as useful as a chocolate tea pot. RSPO took 14 years to ban members from destroying rainforests and still has not enforced the rule totally, with 75% of forest fires in Indonesia linked to palm oi production from members. 10 years ago, major brands promised everything would be okay by 2020. Yet still endangered creatures are killed daily – to make crisps, chocolate bars and soap.
Why Aren’t All Vegans Boycotting Palm Oil?
Just Wholefoods veggie burger has no palm oil
It’s not clear why so many vegans are buying items made with palm oil. Greenpeace says that the ‘sustainable palm oil’ label is as ‘useful as a chocolate teapot’. Many vegans won’t eat eggs or milk due to the (valid concerns) over baby chicks and calves being killed at birth, due to no profit. Yet then quite happily buy a ready-meal made with palm oil, when its use is contributing to mass murder on a grand scale of our closest cousins. The regulation to stop this happening simply isn’t there, and it’s a mystery why the vegan organisations are not on this, rather than their websites promoting ‘vegan brands’ (buying food that indirectly kill primates is not being vegan).
It gives good argument to the local organic farmer who says that buying real milk or meat from him is more sustainable and possibly less cruel. How can vegan societies and websites promote companies that include an oil that is murdering endangered creatures, importing it from half way around the world, wrapping it in plastic, then criticise someone who eats a plate of organic locally grown vegetables, with a free-range egg?
Even Ethical Consumer rates companies as to whether they use RSPO palm oil, surely they have read the articles by Greenpeace? There are even petitions now online asking the best-selling vegan brands to stop using palm oil – and stop calling it ‘sustainable’.
Palm oil is a vegetable product, which does not need to involve the abuse of animals, and therefore is suitable for vegans. Ingredients derived from palm oil do not have to be labelled. So it is not possible for consumers to boycott palm products. Vegan Society (say again? – why not just make your own meals?)
The big companies would have you buy ‘sustainable palm oil’ or their alternatives. When the answer is obvious: where possible, just make your own meals. Then you don’t need it, as all palm oil is only found in processed foods, usually expensive and wrapped in plastic. Some companies say there is no alternative (other than unsustainable alternatives like avocado oils). But what if there were no aeroplanes? What would they use then?
If you do use palm oil, the only way to guarantee source is ‘certified organic palm oil’. This is hard to find. And given the amount eaten in England at present, there would be not be enough land to produce it. So the only option is to use none or far less of it. You could cook/bake with no oil Or find:
Look for Palm Oil Free Certification
Fortunately, the wished-for has happened, to help move things along. An organisation has created the Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark. Now instead of looking for ‘certified sustainable palm oil’, just look for the above logo, and know that your items are not using palm oil.
Where To Find Palm-Oil-Free Brands
Many companies now put coconut oil in products instead of palm oil. But Ensure your coconut milk/oil is monkey-friendly (does not terrified monkey slaves up trees to retrieve the coconut). Biona is one brand that does not do this, nor do Nature’s charm coconut milk products. See:
- Vegan Butters with No Palm Oil
- Nut & Seed Butters with No Palm Oil
- Biscuits & Crackers with No Palm Oil
- Beauty Products with No Palm Oil