But it was a homeschool research project of my nine-year old daughter that has really made us take our palm oil awareness to the next level. After learning about many impacts, Maia has made it her task to help us free our home from palm oil products (except a few items containing certified sustainable palm oil). She has checked all the cupboards to identify any items containing palm oil and scrutinises all new purchases.
What's the issue with palm oil?
I was amazed to find out that palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet and it is in over half of all packaged products in the supermarket, yet Australian law does not oblige companies to identify it on ingredient lists. The can list it in generic terms such as ‘vegetable oil’. This means most of us don't even know we are consuming palm oil, let along know of its impact.
I am appalled too at the way it is being produced. Palm oil may be cheap to produce but the costs to the planet, people and other species are high.
The palm oil industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, water pollution, human rights abuses, animal cruelty, species extinction and landgrabbing. Because of the sheer scale of it’s production and the lack of regulation in the countries where it is produced, the land, forests and communities are devastated for the development of the plantations.
Palm oil is contributing to many species being pushed to extinction. If nothing changes, the orangutan, a keystone species in the rainforest, could become extinct in the wild within 5-10 years. Devastatingly, over 90% of its habitat has been destroyed and 50,000 orangutans have already been killed over the past two decades as a result of deforestation for palm oil plantations. Sumatran tigers may become extinct in less than 3 years. Rhinos and elephants, as well as many many other species, are also severely impacted.
|Nigerians protesting an illegal land grab for a corporate palm oil plantation © www.foei.org|
In response to the call for sustainable and fair production of palm oil the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) formed a decade ago. This has brought some improvements, however deforestation and the destruction of peatlands continues as oil palm plantations grow and grow.
Certified palm oil still only makes up 20% of the global palm oil supply (encouragingly up from 10 per cent in 2011). Choice magazine claims that 70% of Australians want clearer palm oil labelling and that many of them are concerned about the environmental, health, animal welfare and social justice impacts. Unfortunately it appears that most of the world market for palm oil does not yet care whether it is sustainably or ethically produced or not.
What can you do:
- avoid palm oil - grow your own food and cook from scratch
- buy more wholefoods, avoid processed and packaged products
- buy other groceries without palm oil (listed as many names including: vegetable oil, vegetable fat and many other names including Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Kernelate). A good source of palm oil free foods and groceries can be found at www.orangutans.com.au
- look for certified sustainable palm oil (www.rspo.org/)
- write to your state and federal members and let them know that you want labels that identify whether palm oil is in your food.
Adapted from my article published in The Hinterland Times, June 2015