The negative impacts of the palm oil industry has come more widely know in recent years however it is still an ingredient in a huge amount of everyday packaged products from chocolate and ice-cream to shampoo, soaps and laundry detergents.
Unfortunately many brands have also found ways to hide this ingredient by using different names and not disclosing where and how the oil was sourced. These tactics have created consumer confusion for many people and we hope this article helps clarify the issues around palm oil.
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is the oil that is extracted from the fruit of the palm tree. The palm fruit has both palm oil and palm kernel oil. The palm oil is an edible oil that is used in different foods and cooking. The palm kernel oil is used in different cosmetics and laundry products. The palm oil fruit can produce 10 times more oil than some other plant oils making and is the most widely used oil worldwide.
What is the concern with palm oil?
Palm oil is high in saturated fat but used in moderation it’s not considered a bad product, the issue is that the high demand and production of this oil has devastating effects as massive areas of forests are burned so the palm plantations can grow. Along with deforestation the palm oil industry is responsible for loss of vital animal habitat for Orangutans, Elephants, Rhinos and Tigers, child labor, reduction in biodiversity, the forced removal of indigenous people off their lands and high greenhouse gas emissions when burning peat-lands.
Can palm oil be sourced sustainably?
Yes. There are companies that source their palm oil sustainably and ensure that they are not causing destruction of rainforest and other human rights violations. Certified sustainable palm oil is harvested in areas where they are allowed to clear in order to plant the palm tree and harvest the oil from these areas. There are many companies who do not regulate their harvesting and do not consider the environment when planting their crops. Some even go against the regulations about when and where they can harvest their crops which is why if you buy products with palm oil you should be confident it’s ‘certified’ sustainable not just marked as sustainable.
What can I do?
The best thing you can do is to educate yourself on the products that use palm oil and where they are getting their ingredients from. Some companies will state ingredient like vegetable oil are being used when it’s actually palm oil, falling on the technicality that the oil comes from a plant/vegetable. As palm oil can fall under many different names you will find it easier to familiarise and support brands that are committed to being palm oil free than searching each product individually. If you would like to check individual products try downloading one of the palm oil free apps to your smart phone. These apps wont include all products in the supermarket but it’s a good start and you can simply scan a product with your phone before purchasing.
These are some of the names that are commonly used for Palm oil:
Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.
If there is a product you love that does contain palm oil but they are not communicating that their palm oil is sustainably sourced than chances are that it is not. Do your research, find similar products that use ingredients that are not harmful to the environment and make a step towards being more eco-aware and educated.
Check out this list from www.palmoilaction.org.au which includes many palm oil free options for everyday products. http://palmoilaction.org.au