Palm Oil

October 17, 2017



Palm oil, despite being a key ingredient in a massive and diverse array of products, remains a source of much

controversy in environmentalist circles. From Big Macs to mascara, palm oil is an essential component in the manufacturing of numerous products.  Palm oil is an ediextinct, as most of this deforestation takes place in rainble vegetable oil from the West African oil palm tree Elais guyanensis. Despite now being ubiquitous, its application in the west dates back to the industrial revolution as a lubricant important in the construction of railroads. Ever since this, rather than decreasing, palm oil’s applications kept expanding until it was needed in the production of soaps, frying oil, cosmetics, and a variety of other products.  Currently the dominant application of palm oil is to produce frying oil, but it is still commonly used in a vast array of industries. It is common in the snack industry, as it is trans-fat free, and healthier than the chemicals it is replacing. Collectively, the industry produces $50 billion a year.  The issue with palm oil that concerns environmental activist groups is not the product itself however, but its extraction. When extracting palm oil, the common practice is to burn and drain carbon-rich swamps known as peatlands. This causes a massive release of carbon emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as creating vast ugly dead zones. This has also inadvertently rendered the Orangutan near forests, the main habitat of Orangutans. Under increasing pressure by environmentalist groups, various corporations such as PepsiCo have attempted to improve their image by “dealing” with the problem. PepsiCo, issued a statement in 2014 saying they have “...repeatedly stated that we are absolutely committed to 100 percent sustainable palm oil in 2015 and to zero deforestation in our activities and sourcing.” Despite these repeated claims, in practice very little has been done to make palm oil extraction sustainable.  GreenPeace, despite having contacted PepsiCo and other corporations about the issue, still reports that these practices continue with little interference or limitation. Unfortunately, palm oil remains widely used, and this shows little sign of changing. In truth, palm oil is not something which can be boycotted.  There exist very few alternatives to palm oil. Further, it is most likely to become more prominent as the United States has recently placed a ban on trans fat in foods.  However, there is still hope, as while boycotting or banning palm oil may not be feasible, it is not necessary as palm oil extraction does not mandate these destructive practices. Palm oil can be extracted in a relatively sustainable manner, it simply depends on the work of activists and corporations to end these horrendous practices. According to GreenPeace “So when hundreds of thousands of Greenpeace supporters took action, they took the fight straight to the companies responsible. Using the power of mass pressure, one by one we began forcing the biggest brands that use palm oil or paper from Indonesia to promise to protect rainforests.”  Fortunately, many companies have begun to take a “deforestation-free” and “peat-free” pledge- as of 2016, over 60% of companies have taken this pledge and stuck to it. However, deforestation in Indonesia continues to increase, activists must keep the pressure on corporations, to hold them accountable, and to hopefully reverse this destruction.




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