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Article: The palm oil problem

Das Palmöl-Problem | paigh | Fair & gemütlich

The palm oil problem

Do you know why exactly palm oil is bad for the environment? I have to admit that until recently I had no idea what exactly the problem with palm oil was. Unfortunately, like me, many people only come across this problem when they actively engage with sustainability and the environment. I heard a few years ago that Nutella wasn't that "good" (mainly) because of the palm oil - but I didn't understand what that meant exactly. 

I was shocked to learn that every second supermarket product contains palm oil and the devastating consequences of using palm oil.

That's why I would like to draw a little more attention to the topic (especially now after the terrible fires in the Amazon, this is really necessary) and inform you about what the palm oil problem is actually all about. 

What exactly is palm oil?

Palm oil is obtained from the fruits of the oil palm. The oil is pressed out of the fruit under pressure and at high temperatures. The oil is then processed in such a way that undesirable colors, smells or flavors are removed. With 66 tons annually, palm oil is the most frequently produced vegetable oil and, with a market share of 30%, also the most used. 

Why is palm oil so popular for making products?

This vegetable oil is very cheap, it is available all year round and the cultivation of the oil palm is efficient: it has a very high yield. The fat extracted from the fruit has a high melting point and is therefore solid at room temperature, but still spreadable. Palm oil is also tasteless, colorless and has a long shelf life thanks to its high content of antioxidants and vitamin E. Due to the special composition of the fat, other liquid oils can be incorporated to create a stable, creamy consistency. 

These properties make the fat an ideal raw material for industry because it can be mass-produced cheaply.

Which products contain palm oil?

I hereby challenge you to go to the supermarket and find products that are palm oil-free. It's not that easy at all. Palm oil is not only found inmargarine, packet soups and biscuits, but also in ready-made pizza, muesli, soaps, creams, make-up, detergentoil and many other products.

Unfortunately, that's not all, because the majority of palm oil goes into energy production: It is also used primarily for the production of biodiesel and for generating electricity and heat.

Why is palm oil a problem?

Of course, the oil palm itself doesn't cause any problems at first. The demand and the associated production of palm oil are the real problem.

Oil palms grow best whererainforestgrows, i.e. in a tropical climate with uniformly warm, humid conditions. They also need a lot of space. Therefore, the rainforest often has to make way (illegally) for palm plantations. In Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, huge areas of rainforest are cleared and burned every day. 

Oil palm plantations are actually the main reason for rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2018, around 42 football fields of rainforest were destroyed EVERY MINUTE worldwide. These are areas that are so huge that I can hardly imagine them anymore...

The climate is suffering due to the destruction of the rainforest. This is because the carbon stored in the soil is released when converted into plantations. This means that huge amounts of climate-damaging gases end up in the atmosphere. 

In addition, some animal species also suffer. Rainforests represent one of the last remaining habitats for orangutans. The Sumatran tiger and the Borneo pygmy elephant, for example, are also having less and less space to live due to the deforestation of the rainforest in Indonesia.

The residents of the growing areasalso suffer damage: they are often forcibly evicted and lose their land to the palm oil companies. 

Quite apart from these devastating effects - even for us as consumers , palm oil is more harmful than beneficial to health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of fatty acid esters, which can damage the genetic material and cause cancer.

Orang Utan zwischen Bäumen im Regenwald
Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash

How do you deal with the problem?

Now the question is what should we do best? Avoid palm oil entirely in order to boycott palm oil production? Switch to alternative vegetable oils? Or advocate for palm oil to be grown in a more environmentally friendly way?

Oil palms are particularly productive and therefore require relatively little cultivation area. Nevertheless, it always comes down to the “how” of production. You can therefore work to ensure that palm oil is increasingly grown sustainably. Ecological and socially compatible cultivation includes the prevention of further deforestation, the restoration of damaged habitats and the most environmentally friendly production/processing of oil palm fruits. 

If palm oil were to be replaced by other vegetable oils (e.g. rapeseed, soy or sunflower oil), more area would be required and other habitats and species would suffer. 

Nevertheless, many environmentalists and organizations are of the opinion that we should stop producing or consuming palm oil altogether. 

So the whole thing is really not that simple...

How can I avoid palm oil?

Since 2014, manufacturers have had to indicate whether their product contains palm oil or not. The palm oil that is found in cosmetics is usually not labeled as “palm oil”...

Names for palm oil on food:

  • Palm oil
  • Palmfette
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Vegetable fat/vegetable oil
  • Vegetable fat

Names for palm oil on cosmetics:

  • Cetearyl / Cetyl
  • Lauryl / Lauroyl / Laurate
  • Palm / Palmate / Palmitate
  • Stearyl / Stearate

On this website you will find an overview of products without palm oil. If you want to avoid palm oil, you should especially look at the products from Ferrero and Unilever avoid.

What else can I do?

The same applies here: Make it yourself with local ingredients is probably the best way. We should grow more of our basic foodstuffs ourselves (as we used to) and not at the expense of the tropical rainforests and the people who live there. When we cook or bake ourselves, we can use regional oils such as rapeseed, corn, linseed, safflower or sunflower oil.

But it is also worth writing to manufacturers that you can use their products of the palm oil it contains. Or you can inquire about their palm oil production. Some manufacturers have already changed the way they produce products.

In addition, it is always a big step to make other people aware of the palm oil problem and to give the topic more space. For example, you can also share this post so that more people can be reached.

If you would like to find out more about the topics of sustainability, mindfulness or healthy eating, take a look here over.

Palmöl Früchte auf einem Straßen Markt
Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash
Sources:
https://www.regenwald.org/themen/palmoel#start
https://www.peta.de/palmoel-schaedlich-umwelt
https://www.abenteuer-regenwald.de/bedrohungen/palmoel
http://www.umweltblick.de/index.php/branchen/produkte-ohne-palmoel

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