What is palm oil and why should you care?

Posted on 15 November 2018

A video created by British supermarket chain Iceland has gone viral on social media after it was banned from British television for being ‘too political’. The company’s aim with the video was to promote its palm oil-free products ahead of the Christmas shopping rush and so it cleverly repurposed a Greenpeace campaign that featured the voice of acclaimed British actress Emma Thompson.

The video’s tugs at the heartstrings and its massive distribution via social media has lead to numerous conversations and news pieces palm oil and whether products containing it should be boycotted. Devastating deforestation has occured to make way for palm tree plantations, often illegally. Richard Walker, Iceland’s MD spent time in Borneo and he described a “horizon to horizon monoculture” of palm trees.

Palm oil is the oil of the fruit that grow on palm trees. It is a highly saturated oil which is often called ‘vegetable oil’. Plantations are found across Africa, Aisa and South America, as palm oil is cost effective to produce and according to Greenpeace, up to half of all supermarket products contain this vegetable oil.

Image: Getty images

Earlier this year, Iceland became the first British retailer to announce it would be phasing out the use of palm oil in its home-brand product range, which it plans to do by the end of the year. But the Lowy Institue, a nonpartisan international policy think-tank, has made critical remarks about corporations’ solutions to the palm oil problem: ‘Like banning plastic bag bans or insisting on bamboo straws, this piece of corporation-led consumer activism ignores the complex reality of palm oil production and its environmental consequences.’

IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said in June, “When you consider the disastrous impacts of palm oil on biodiversity from a global perspective, there are no simple solutions.Half of the world’s population uses palm oil in food, and if we ban or boycott it, other, more land-hungry oils will likely take its place.”

According to the WWF, ‘palm oil supplies 35 per cent of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just 10 per cent of the land [used for vegetable oil production].’ Unfortunately the land being used at present is home to many endangered species which are being displaced by deforestation. It seems that there is no easy answer here. Palm oil is here to stay for now – however, you can be part of the movement that insists on sustainable palm oil production.

According to Greenpeace, Nestlé, Unilever, Mars and several other companies have signed commitments to prevent ‘dirty palm oil’ from being used in their products by 2020 (You can sign the petition here).




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