The pure, untouched virgin rainforests of South East Asia are the lungs of the world and home to plant and animal species that we haven’t even discovered yet. Oh, and did I mention that the Orang Utans also call this place home? Well, not for much longer if we (and that means you too) keep on wanting stuff.

You see, since the 1960’s this area has been home to a growing number of palm plantations, palm trees that yield the oil that greases the cosmetics (and other) industries. Growing demand has led to growing concern for the environment as palm farmers and local governments struggle to balance competing needs.

Meanwhile Orang Utans are not the only species loosing out in this rush to keep world business turning.

So why shouldn’t we boycott Palm Oil? Let’s have a look at the facts:

  1. Palm oil is one of the highest yielding oil crops suitable for food and industrial use.  Average figures show that it produces in the region of 4MT of oil per hectare farmed.  Another popular oil Canola only yields between 1.5-2MT per hectare.
  2. Palm oil is one of the most chemically rich and diverse oils on offer yielding vitamin E, a wide range of fatty acids, glycerine and oils that contain many other trace nutrients.  It stands head and shoulders above its competitors of soy, canola and sunflower oil.
  3. Palm is relatively healthy as it contains no trans-fat and is rich in tocotrienols which help keep the body healthy.
  4. Palm is a very cost-effective crop to grow as it is hardy, fast growing and water efficient.
  5. Palm is 100% natural and can be grown sustainably.

With all of these benefits listed you may either be sitting there fuming and saying “BUT ANIMALS ARE SUFFERING”  or you may be thinking “What is all the fuss about?”   Whatever camp you are in it is important to think about the detail as that is where the solution is hiding.

The detail is this,  palm oil is a good oil BUT irresponsible farming,  short-sighted land management practices, the re-zoning of land and unbridled demand is BAD and is causing problems.

SO we can choose our solution:

  • BOYCOTT PALM.  This action, without further lifestyle modification will mean that we shift the problem from a high-yielding crop to another possibly less economic crop that has to grow somewhere. We feel ‘clean’ but somewhere in the world, the problem still exists.  Also Palm doesn’t just get listed as ‘palm’ on labels of products as it is one of the key feedstocks in the non-petroleum surfactant industry – difficult, expensive and mostly pointless to try to avoid.
  • CHANGE YOUR HABITS. This may be quite a radical move but the main way that you can avoid increasing demand for this or any other oil is to buy less. You could make your own food, cosmetics and cleaning products and cut back on convenience. This could really have a difference to both your health and the health of the planet. 

BUT that is a bit tricky for most so.

  • Support efforts for a sustainable palm oil industry and greater supply chain transparency.  Efforts to clean up palm oil farming are growing and it makes sense to support this.  The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil Farming is an organisation spanning  industry, government and consumer groups to look at creating a more environmental responsible industry. It is early days yet and sustainable palm still only accounts for a minority of the palm farmed BUT this can and is changing.

So, my message is simple. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this issue. We can make a difference by either changing our habits and buying NOTHING or by supporting a move to sustainable farming. Boycotting palm in favour of another crop is a bit like cleaning up by shoving stuff under your bed.

Let’s play our part in moving this industry forward.

I like this piece by Taronga Zoo, this is the link to the Round Table and the World Wildlife Fund.