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Article: The palm oil problem

Das Palmöl-Problem | paigh | Fair & gemütlich

The palm oil problem

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

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

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

What exactly is palm oil?

Palm oil is obtained from the fruit 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 unwanted colouring, odour or taste substances are removed. With 66 tons per year, palm oil is the most 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, colourless 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 a stable, creamy consistency

These properties make the fat an ideal raw material for industry, as it can be used to produce mass goods cheaply.

What products contain palm oil?

I hereby challenge you to go to the supermarket and find products that are palm oil free. Because that is not so easy. Palm oil is not only found in margarine, packet soups and biscuits, but also in ready-made pizza, muesli, soaps, creams, make-up, detergents and many other products.

Unfortunately, that's not all, because the majority of palm oil is used in energy production: It is also used mainly for the production of biodiesel and for electricity and heat generation.

Why is palm oil a problem?

Of course, the oil palm in itself does not cause any problems at first. The demand and the associated production of palm oil is the real problem.

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

The oil palm plantations are even the main reason for the destruction of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2018 EVERY MINUTE approx. 42 football pitches of rainforest were destroyed worldwide. These are areas that are so huge that I can hardly imagine them anymore..

The destruction of the rainforest is affecting the climate. This is because the carbon stored in the soils is released during the conversion in plantations. This releases huge quantities of climate-damaging gases into the atmosphere

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

The inhabitants of the growing areas also suffer damage: They are often displaced by force and lose their land to the palm oil companies

Quite apart from these devastating effects - for us as consumers , too, palm oil is more harmful than health-promoting: refined palm oil contains large quantities of fatty acid esters that can damage the genetic make-up and cause cancer.

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

How to deal with the problem?

The question now is what we should do best. Do without palm oil completely in order to boycott palm oil production? Switch to alternative vegetable oils? Or advocate that palm oil be grown in a more environmentally friendly way?

Oil palms are particularly high-yielding and therefore require relatively little cultivation area. Nevertheless, it always depends on the "how" of production. This is why we can work to ensure that palm oil is increasingly cultivated sustainably. Ecologically and socially compatible cultivation includes preventing further deforestation, restoring damaged habitats and producing / processing the fruits of the oil palm in the most environmentally friendly way possible

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

Nevertheless, many environmentalists and organisations are of the opinion that palm oil should not be produced or consumed at all

So this whole thing is really not that simple..

How can I do without palm oil?

Since 2014, manufacturers have had to declare whether their product contains palm oil or not. However, the palm oil used in cosmetics is usually not labelled as "palm oil"..

Names for palm oil on food:

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

Name for palm oil on cosmetics:

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

On this website you will find an overview of products without palm oil. If you want to do without palm oil, you should avoid Ferrero and Unilever products.

What else can I do?

Again, do-it-yourself with local ingredients is probably the best way. We should grow our staple foods (as we used to) more by ourselves again and not at the expense of the tropical rainforests and the people living there. If we cook or bake ourselves, we can fall back on regional oils such as rape, corn, linseed, thistle or sunflower oil.

However, it is also worth writing to manufacturers that they no longer want to buy their products because of the palm oil they contain. Or you can ask about their palm oil production. Some manufacturers have already changed the way they produce palm oil.

Besides, it has always been a big step to make other people aware of the palm oil problem and to give more space to the topic. For example, you are welcome to share this contribution so that more people can be reached

If you would like to learn more about sustainability, mindfulness or healthy eating, take a look here over.

Palmöl Früchte auf einem Straßen Markt
Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash

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