Rainforest Destroying Palm Oil Hiding in Far More Products Than Previously Thought

oil palm plantation photo

Oil palm plantation in Indonesia, photo: Achmad Rabin Taim via flickr

A bit more than a year ago, Lloyd wrote about how palm oil is in everything and since then more and more voices have detailed just how environmentally devastating the Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil trade has become. What's more, according to The Independent palm oil may be in many common food items you buy, and you may not even know it:Writing about brands in the UK (many of which at multi-national brands, so it's probably not a stretch to at least roughly apply these numbers elsewhere), it had been assumed that about 1 in 10 products contained palm oil, often thrown in under the catchall term 'vegetable oil'.

About 40% of UK Grocery Brands Contain Palm Oil
However the Independent says that after a two month investigation it has found palm oil to be far more prevalent than thought:

We can reveal for the first time that it is confirmed or suspected in 43 of Britain's 100 bestselling grocery brands (see box, right), representing £6bn of the UK's £16bn annual shopping basket for top brands. If you strip out drinks, pet food and household goods, the picture is starker still: 32 out of 62 of Britain's top foods contain this tree-felling, wildlife-wrecking ingredient.

It's in the top three loaves – Warburtons, Hovis, and Kingsmill – and the bestselling margarines Flora and Clover. It's in Special K, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Mr Kipling Cakes, McVitie's Digestives and Goodfella's pizza. It's in KitKat, Galaxy, Dairy Milk and Wrigley's chewing gum. It's in Persil washing powder, Comfort fabric softener and Dove soap. It's also in plenty of famous brands that aren't in the top 100, such as Milkybar, Jordan's Country Crisp and Utterly Butterly. And it's almost certainly in thousands of supermarket own brands. Yet none of these manufacturers can prove their supply is "sustainable".

Palm Oil Spells Disaster in Borneo
Read the whole original article for a good summary of the situation with palm oil: The deforestation the plantations cause, the good chance that orangutans will go extinct because of it, as well as an amazingly wide array of other wildlife, the plight of indigenous people pushed out by plantations, the amazingly high carbon footprint of biodiesel made from palm oil, the problems with efforts to certify sustainable palm oil.

No One Buying Sustainable Palm Oil
The big thing though is this: There are more sustainable methods of growing palm oil, and quantities of it are being produced, but very few companies are actually buying it. It is about 35% more expensive than regular palm oil, but personally that seems like a small price to pay for the preservation of one of the most rich ecosystems on the planet.

Without consumers speaking out, and activists holding government accountable and raising awareness more broadly, global demand for palm oil is going to turn the majority of Borneo from a biodiversity hotspot into an ecological desert.

More: The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?
Palm Oil
Pay No Attention to the Whining Indonesian Palm Oil Industry: The Deforestation, Climate Change & Biodiversity Concerns Are Genuine
Rainforest Preservation Can Be More Profitable Than Palm Oil Plantations
Seventh Generation Buys Sustainable Palm Kernel OIl Credits For Its Entire Product Line

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