I’ve avoided giving the update on this issue for a while now, mainly because the news isn’t good. I’d love to give a positive update on an environmental issue that reaches our daily lives, but it’s just getting worse. The palm oil crisis rages on. As Halloween candy ingestion increases, our awareness of the palm oil crisis should grow as well.
In case you have missed what palm oil is, palm oil is found in more than 50 percent of products in the grocery store including cookies, crackers, milk, lotions, soaps and yes, candy. The semi solid oil is ideal for a variety of commercial uses such as providing products their “chewy” texture, and due to moderate amount of linoleic acid and antioxidants, palm oil keeps products stable for longer periods. With more than 30 different common names for palm oil, it can be very difficult to identify which products contain the oil.
The cheap filler, palm oil, has not always been in our products. In the last 30 years palm oil production has increased to today about a third of all vegetable oil used worldwide is derived from oil palm trees. Eighty-five percent of all palm oil produced is exported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil plantations are created by slash and burning tropical rainforests, which destroys wildlife habitat and releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere contributing to climate change. The destruction of tropical rainforests also reduces the amount of plants taking in carbon dioxide, which their presence would offset climate change. Habitat destruction in favor of palm oil plantations has led to vast declines in orangutans, tigers and other endangered species.
OK, so what’s the update? Malaysia had a rough year with unconventional hot dry weather related to the El Niño phenomenon. Palm oil yield in Malaysia is estimated to decline by 5.3 percent for 2016. But, forecasts for 2017 are showing a 5.6 percent increase for 2017. Just last week palm oil future prices surged to the highest in more than two years. The palm oil business in Malaysia rages on. Now, companies are expanding to other parts of the world, such as Africa.
Liberia has become a new target location for palm oil plantations. The Guardian recently published their investigation into the palm oil debate focusing on Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL). GVL is a palm oil company emphasizing their work in Liberia as bringing jobs and increasing the economy through oil palm plantations. Just as the land was destroyed in Indonesia, the same is being done in Liberia, without the entire community’s consent.
Poverty is a driving issue that allows companies to exploit third world land. Still writhing from a civil war, Liberia is falling victim to this exploitation. We need to support nonprofits and companies that boost local economic communities through sustainable development and not land destruction.
And where are we with sustainable palm oil? The same, it’s not really sustainable. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the only recognized certification for sustainable palm oil but is run by many of the palm oil companies. The RSPO sustainable certification process doesn’t cover some of the most critical environmental issues around destroying forests and peatlands. We need an independent third party certification process to accurately assess sustainability and until that exists, don’t believe the sustainable palm oil hype.
Let’s make some movement on combating the palm oil industry. Industries follow consumers and if you don’t buy palm oil, companies will begin to feel the economic decline. Use #PalmOilFree to identify products that don’t have palm oil in them and help spread the word on social media about what palm oil is, why it’s important and what you can do every day to make a difference. A strong community presence will give more power to politicians to create regulations on our U.S. consumer companies to reduce their palm oil use or push for real sustainable action. This will pass change back to palm oil companies around the world. Individually we can come together to make a positive impact on the palm oil crisis. Choose your Halloween candy wisely.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.