If You Care About Animals and the Earth, Here’s Why You Need to Boycott Palm Oil Immediately

If You Care About Animals and the Earth, Here's Why We Need to Boycott Palm Oil Immediately

By Carolanne Wright

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Found in an astounding array of foods — like baked goods, cookies, chocolate, potato chips and milk — palm oil is in half of the packaged foods that line our supermarket shelves today. It’s also heavily used in cosmetics and toiletries, to increase the feeling of creaminess in products ranging from soap to shampoo, detergents and toothpaste. The oil is used increasingly for biofuel as well. Add to this a high demand in Myanmar and Indonesia as a replacement for coconut and peanut oil, and palm oil tops the list as the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, surpassing even soy.

What most people don’t realize is how damaging the crop is to rain forests, animals and the environment. It’s one of the most destructive crops in the world — and the situation is only becoming worse…

A massive industry of environmental devastation

Only able to grow in the tropics and requiring vast amounts of water, oil palms are native to South America and West Africa. However, man-made palm plantations have spread to areas like Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Southeast Asia. It’s an enormous industry, especially in Indonesia, where the oil accounts for 11 percent of its export earnings, making it the country’s third largest export. As profitable as the oil may be, the environment pays an exceptionally high price due to these plantations.

The expansion of palm oil plantations around the world threaten vast areas of tropical rain forests. The two countries most at-risk are Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which are home to endangered orangutans. Several studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Princeton University in the United States have shown palm oil plantations are causing extreme destruction to the world’s rain forests — where upwards of 60 percent of palm oil expansion is at the expense of primary tropical rain forest. These plantations not only endanger the health of the environment and orangutan populations, but also inflame conflict with local communities over traditional land rights.

Orangutan Foundation International highlights the dire consequences of palm oil production:

“In Sumatra at least 10.8 million hectares have been opened up for palm oil plantations. The situation in Borneo is similar. Large scale conversion of tropical rain forests has had an absolutely devastating impact on biodiversity in both Borneo and Sumatra. In addition, deforestation may cause soil erosion and, because most forests have been cleared through the use of fire, massive air pollution from smoke. Much of the land on which palm oil plantations have been established consists of peat swamp forest. The draining, burning, and conversion of peat swamp forests to palm oil has been especially damaging to the world’s climate as it has led to Indonesia being the third largest contributor of carbon to the world’s atmosphere after China and the United States.”

If You Care About Animals and the Earth, Here's Why We Need to Boycott Palm Oil Immediately - Oil Palm Fruit

Oil Palm Fruit

Palm oil companies tend to clear primary forests — instead of degraded areas — for plantations because the forest land can be cleared by fire, which naturally fertilizes the soil and saves the company money. Over and above that, any timber that’s cut can in turn be sold for a profit. Once the plantation is established, displaced orangutans are often brutally killed as the starving animals try to obtain food in the plantation areas. The animals have been found buried alive, as well as killed by machete and guns. The industry considers orangutans ‘agricultural pests.’ It’s estimated that 50,000 orangutans have died over the last two decades due to palm oil plantations.

Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sun Bear, Pygmy Elephant, Clouded Leopard and Proboscis Monkey populations have also suffered from the encroachment of palm oil plantations on their natural habitats.

“According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.” [source]

Orangutan hands - national geographic - visions of earth 2011

Image from “Visions of Earth”, © National Geographic 2011

Sustainable palm oil: fact or fiction?

You might have noticed over the last few years the appearance of red palm oil in health food stores being marketed as a healthy cooking oil. Take a closer look at the label and it will say the oil is sustainably harvested and does not impact orangutan habitat. This may ease our minds as consumers, but are these products actually safe for the environment, local communities and animal habitats?

In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) established voluntary guidelines to develop less destructive methods of palm oil production — including ways to protect land rights of local people. While they appear promising on the surface, many activists claim the guidelines are simply “greenwashing” the issue — largely because forests continue to be destroyed, wildlife killed and local people jailed after protesting the seizure of their land. In short, it’s just business as usual.

If we truly would like to make an impact, there are several straightforward actions that can be taken today. Have a look at this handy resource list by Say NO to Palm Oil, with practical ways you can live more ethically through your consumption choices.

The Insatiable Demand for Palm Oil

Article sources:

About the author:

Carolanne WrightCarolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.

Through her website Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Further reading from Carolanne Wright:


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  • immortalvegan

    I’m really sick of articles about this and I can not find simple instructions about HOW to avoid it!!!!! I have never bought anything with Palm Oil listed on the damn label. I read the ingredient list from everything I buy. These articles say it’s in all this shit, few offer short lists of products that avoid using it or contain it & I’ve been reading and following links and doing google searches, but yet NOTHING!
    Can someone at least tell me what words I can look for in the ingredient lists to avoid this shit entirely or shut the fuck up about it? Do I just need to steer clear of Vegetable Oil? Can Palm Oil be listed under other oil names besides Vegetable Oil? What about other ingredient names it could be under? Any help?
    If we need to work on this by working on Label reforms, then SAY THAT & shut up about avoiding it because you are driving me crazy.

    • Chris Rioux

      It’s typically simply listed in the ingredients as Palm Oil, or Palm Kernel Oil. I don’t believe it goes by any other names, and I have seen it on many products I was about to buy, but put it back on the shelf when I saw that. It’s not that hard to avoid if you read the ingredients labels.

      • immortalvegan

        I have since now seen it one time on something. Only once.

  • ThriveLiving

    immortalvegan (aka. Chris) — As posted to your same comment on Facebook:

    Found at the end of the article: “If we truly would like to make an impact, there are several straightforward actions that can be taken today. Have a look at this handy resource list by Say NO to Palm Oil, with practical ways you can live more ethically through your consumption choices.” http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/What_can_i_do.php

    It’s an extensive resource list that should answer *all* your questions, including specific name brand products to avoid.

    Honestly Chris if you would truly like to avoid palm oil, and be completely safe, you would want to steer clear of all processed food — including the so-called ‘healthy’ kind. A whole-foods diet will give you complete control over ingredients. If there is a natural product that you use often, it would be worth it to contact that company directly and ask about the oil they use. Regrettably, there aren’t specific labeling laws in place that would distinguish between palm oil and vegetable oil. Even “sustainably harvested” palm oil in many natural products is questionable, as addressed in the article. Also, see my responses to your original question below — especially about how many natural food companies are under those big name brands that you avoid. Food conglomerates compromise the integrity of natural brands more often than not. It really shouldn’t be this complicated, should it? Unfortunately, that’s how it is these days — you really need to dig for the truth and question everything, as you well know.



    • immortalvegan

      I’ve seen every link posted here already. Including those. If you read my comment you would know I already read labels, without fail. I guess no one understands what the hell I am complaining about. I do not buy 99% if not 100% of any of the products on these lists anyway. I am complaining that the people who keep writing these articles keep saying… “it’s everywhere” and “feel guilty because you can’t avoid it completely”. I just can’t figure out from any published information if that is actually true or not and if I need to beat myself and wear sackcloth.

  • Michelle Desilets

    Conservation organisations concerned about the impacts of palm oil do NOT call for a blanket boycott of palm oil, as it would be ineffective and possibly counter-productive: http://www.theswitchreport.com.au/top-stories/boycotting-palm-oil-not-way-save-orangutans/

  • Michelle Desilets

    Better to demand deforestation-free Certified Sustainable Palm Oil: http://www.poig.org