Palm Oil Update Fall 2017

Whoever first put chocolate and peanut butter together was a pure genius. It’s the time of the year when candy surrounds us. It’s in huge bags at the stores, in everyone’s office bowls, at friend’s houses and, of course, on our own coffee tables. To me, when I think about candy, I think about milk chocolate and peanut butter but, when I see it, all I see is palm oil. It’s like I have X-ray vision for palm oil.

I have the same vision when I see make-up, lotion, soap, milk, cookies, crackers and anything that’s in a box and has a label. Palm oil is in nearly everything — over 50 percent of the products in the grocery store. I am a compulsive checker of labels especially of soap, always on the search for palm oil-free soap. I have found one small soap company that sets up shop at the Dallas Farmers Market that doesn’t use palm oil.

My palm oil vision glasses started years ago when I found out about the palm oil industry in Indonesia. Indonesia has done a very good job at building their palm oil business, but it’s come at the expense of millions of acres of rainforests and a sharp decline in many species including endangered orangutans and tigers. That’s the kind of stuff that trumps a piece of chocolate and peanut butter for me.

I’ve watched as the industry has risen to a worldwide infestation in our products, including baby formula. I followed the journey of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, led by large palm oil executives, who tried to shade their way into promoting sustainable palm oil with questionable ethics. Now, products proudly display “sustainable palm oil” on their labels.

But where are we? Can we trust those labels? Can we eat the candy?!

Earlier this year, the European Union (E.U.) announced plans to ban palm oil in biodiesel and other products. The E.U. is the second largest export destination of palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia. The palm oil industry has been working hard to strengthen their reputation in the E.U., but it’s not working. The palm oil companies are having trouble hiding their environmental issues. The E.U.-commissioned report on energy sources said that the production of palm oil creates more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. Not good.

Instead of refining their practices, the palm oil industries in Indonesia and Malaysia are searching for new markets to sell their product. Who will overlook the environmental effects and buy into the product? I have one idea.

Greed still leads the palm oil industry. “Sustainable palm oil” is still not an accurate representation of what we want it to be. Therefore, I can do without the candy that contains palm oil, without the lush soaps that boast about their use of sustainable palm oil and every other damn thing that contains it! Ok, it’s actually nearly impossible to go completely palm oil free because it’s often hidden in your products. But, you can avoid it as much as possible. Get a pair of palm oil glasses and check your labels.

What if we saw the impact of every product we bought listed on the package? What if there was a section on the nutrition facts that listed environmental damage? Would we consume as much? Would we shift our economy to more sustainable methods that factor in people, profit and planet?

Enjoy the Holidays and do me a favor, read your candy labels before you buy. Surprise, surprise! There are still issues with palm oil and sustainable palm oil.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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