Teresa Pinho | 14ºC
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the mesocarp (fruit) of oil palms, scientifically named Elaeis guineensis.
The plantations are undemanding in terms of soil quality, and can grow in any tropical forest. There are plantations in Africa and South America, however, 84% of production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Its saturated fat content is similar to that of butter, higher than that of olive oil, but less than other oils such as sunflower.
Thus, the idea that it would be healthier was quickly outdated, as a diet rich in saturated fats tends to increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol) cholesterol and increase the prevalence of heart disease and cancers.
What is the problem with Palm Oil anyway?
Although this topic has been a controversial subject at times, it has been left aside - not given the proper attention it should - considering that it is used every day all over the world and has a harmful effect on numerous levels: nature to health.
Although it is a well-known topic and there is already a lot of legislation and alternatives, the consumption of palm oil rose, between 2015 and 2021, from 59 thousand tons per year to 75 thousand tons.
The ecological footprint of palm oil is such that the plantations of these palm trees account for 10% of the world's plantations, with about 3 billion people using products containing this oil daily, estimating that each person consumes 8 kg of oil of palm per year.
The advantages of this ingredient are obvious, that's why it is so used worldwide. Firstly, it is extremely low cost and has become very popular in developing countries in Asia for food use.
As it has a melting point of 37ºC, it maintains the consistency of products in the butter category (cocoa cream, peanut butter) at room temperature, as well as being the main component in cosmetics - creams, lipsticks, shave.
In addition, the competitive price makes it an added advantage over other biofuels (soybean oil, sunflower oil, among others). It is a perennial plant, giving it a huge advantage, allowing continuous production throughout the year.
However, the downsides are daunting. The biggest impact of this industry is at the ecological level. In which about 27 million hectares are occupied by these plantations, equivalent to the area of New Zealand, with deforestation being its worst effect.
But why is it bad, replacing trees with trees?
Entire ecosystems, diverse in terms of fauna and flora, give rise to these trees, with a lifespan of approximately 25 years before being removed and replanted, in contrast to forests that have subsisted for thousands of years.
And what is the process like?
The fastest, cheapest and most effective way to clear a rainforest is to burn it. Trees, which consume carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2), when burned, release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - increasing atmospheric pollution, the planet's temperature and driving other climate change.
In addition, tropical forests have an immense amount of peat accumulated in the soil (material of plant origin, rich in carbon, which gives rise to charcoal), which when set on fire is almost impossible to extinguish. For example, in 2006, a peat forest fire in Indonesia released the same amount of CO2 as the whole of Germany that year.
The extinction of species is another consequence of palm oil plantations.With their territory being destroyed, several indigenous communities and animals are being threatened and driven to extinction, such as the Bornean pygmy elephant, the Sumatran elephant, the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, the java rhino and sumatran rhino
All these species are classified as endangered or critically endangered. These are just some of the 193 species that are estimated to be threatened by this problem. Another obscure and lesser known aspect of palm oil is the widespread violation of human rights.
Did you know that women who work on palm oil plantations are paid only $2 a day? This industry camouflages sexual abuse, child exploitation and slavery.
Still on the violation of workers' rights, they are exposed to toxic chemicals from fires, pesticides and fertilizers including Paraquat, a chemical banned in the European Union.
Amnesty International found such practices in the largest palm oil producer in the world (43% of total world production) called Wilmer. The consumption of products containing unsustainable palm oil encourages the continuation of this vicious cycle.
PALM OIL MARKET
As it is an issue that affects the planet and all of us on a daily basis, WWF has created a useful tool for us to know how the companies whose products we use are classified in terms of the sustainability of the palm oil they use: http://palmoilscorecard .panda.org/
RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) that unites stakeholders from 7 sectors of the palm oil industry:
producers, processors, consumers, retail, banking/investors and environmentalists to develop and implement sustainable standards for palm oil. Companies must meet the necessary criteria to be considered CSPOs (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil).
ONLY 19% OF THE WORLD PALM OIL IS CERTIFIED BY THE RSPO
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The most terrifying thing is that it is immeasurably difficult not to consume it – for lack of alternatives, lack of knowledge or because it is camouflaged with other names.
What the consumer doesn't know, most of the time, is that he is buying a product that contains palm oil, of which around 200 ingredients contain it and only 10% are described with the word “palm” .
The opinion on how to proceed is still very controversial. There are those who defend the abolition of this product, but many argue that, in addition to being almost impossible, it is more unsustainable to replace it with other products (for example, that the same amount of plantations to produce soy oil would be equally or more harmful). Furthermore, the socio-economic consequences would also be many.
You can find more information at:
What to change in our behavior?
1) When shopping, check the components used in the products and try to choose those that do not contain palm oil
2) When you have no alternative, look for the symbol below, which means palm oil is sustainable:
3) Research, inform yourself and spread information about companies committed to the CSPO.
4) If you have a company, join the RSPO.
We leave you some more useful links: https://palmoilalliance.eu/ https://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/food/palmoil#gs.8sle0n https://ourworldindata. org/palm-oil
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