Product we all use doing 'serious damage' to the planet

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Most of us are determined to do the right thing by the planet. But sometimes, it’s a case of what we don’t know …

This product is in ice cream, soap, pizza dough, lipstick, detergent and thousands of other food items and household products. It’s in an estimated half of all packaged products, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and its consumption is doing serious damage to the planet.

We’re talking palm oil.

Palm oil comes from the fruit of oil palm trees and is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world. Most of it is produced in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as in South America and parts of Africa.

It’s a very efficient crop and harvests help to alleviate rural poverty, says the WWF, but irresponsible production is causing widespread rainforest destruction and wildlife loss, and exacerbating climate change. And increasing global demand for vegetable oils – it is expected to grow by 46 per cent by 2050 – is threatening more of the same.

A study by the University of Queensland says it’s past time we looked at alternatives. According to the report, oil palm expansion has directly contributed to a staggering 50 per cent of deforestation in Malaysian Borneo, threatening species including orangutans, gibbons and tigers.

But there’s more.

“Industrial oil palm expansion by large multinational and national companies is also often associated with social problems, such as land grabbing and conflicts, labour exploitation, social inequity and declines in village-level wellbeing,” the study’s authors wrote.

But before we can move to alternative oils, Australian and international scientists say the options must be carefully assessed.

“Meeting this demand through additional expansion of oil palm versus other vegetable oil crops will lead to substantial differential effects on biodiversity, food security, climate change, land degradation and livelihoods,” say the authors.

They referred to other major oil crops such as soybean, rapeseed, cotton, peanuts, sunflower, coconut, maize and olive, but said a benefit of palm oil was that it produced more oil per area than those crops.

The authors say we must urgently conduct more research into the impacts and trade-offs of using other vegetable oil crops.

“In a world with finite land and growing demands, we must consider global demands for food, fuel and industrial uses hand in hand with environmental conservation objectives,” they say.

An earlier University of Queensland study found there was little evidence that a certification scheme for palm oil plantations was improving protection of critically endangered orangutans in Borneo.

It concluded that vague targets, concepts and terminology left too much to interpretation.

Were you aware of the concerns surrounding palm oil? Will you now be more conscious of product alternatives?

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Written by Janelle Ward


Total Comments: 6
  1. 3

    The issues related to the production of palm oil is one of a number of agricultural products where the demands from richer countries see productive land taken over from the local poorer peasants to produce crops that will bring a much larger financial return to large food corporations. This has happened in Africa in order to produce coffee for people like us at the expense of food for the locals creating conditions akin to famine.
    A large part of the problem is world overpopulation but it is combined with un-restrained capitalism.

  2. 4

    “Were you aware of the concerns surrounding palm oil? Will you now be more conscious of product alternatives?”

    This has been a problem for some years and has been reported in the media on a regular basis. Until there is a cheaper alternative to palm oil the destruction of habitat will continue. The concern is from the west which, ironically, are the biggest users of products containing palm oil and they are the ones who want the suppliers to stop clearing forested areas which is essentially interfering with the way another country carries out its way of life. Saving flora and fauna surely means changing the way we live, not carrying on as usual and blaming a third world country which is making money catering to our wants.

  3. 0

    Been aware for this for years since visiting Borneo and observing orangutans. I’m not telling Malaysia what to do. I just avoid buying palm oil products. Saturated fat content is much higher than say canola oil which grown in Australia. So it’s an easy choice as I see it. Although if you buy the cheapest processed foods you will get more palm oil often hidden as unspecified vegetable oil on the label.

  4. 5

    What an absolutely ridiculous heading: “Killing the Planet””! This is just left-wing environmental activist rubbish. More from the looney green left.
    As an Australian who is agriculturalist, aid project manager and Uni lecturer, I have spent over 40 years in developing countries of the Pacific, Africa and SE Asia, and have observed the massive plantings of Oil Palm in various countries, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, where I lived and worked with poor farmers managing development aid projects for 16 years.
    Plantings of Oil Palm changed the environment where they were planted of course, from rainforest to stands producing palm oil. But in most cases, the overall effect on wildlife has been minimal with major areas of rainforest, which are often mountainous and unsuitable for plantations, being untouched. And the carbon balance and oxygen generation is preserved, trees being replaced with trees.
    The question must be asked, what substitute food oil would humanity use ? Sunflower, Safflower etc would use more of the precious cropping land that we need for food crops. And the cost of margarine would be higher.
    The Orangutangs of Sumatra (and Borneo) have diminished in number somewhat, but they are hardly threatened, and there is a huge National Park with over 100,000 Orangutangs there and and a massive Orangutang sanctuary which is worth a visit.
    Meanwhile, YourLifeChoices Editorial Committee, could you please refrain from misleading, biased and false headings like this one. And it would be nice to see a bit of balance in the articles, which are invariably left of centre, often extremely so.

    • 0

      Agreed, the key here is trees being replace with trees, resulting in much less impact on climate and rainfall patterns. And the big question mark what would we replace it with?

  5. 1

    This is all media driven. Why focus on palm oil? We destroyed our rainforest to plant sugar cane and waste land left over has a few cattle grazing on it, eroding what little fertility was left. Palm oil at least is a tree crop, providing shade to the ground, recycling mulch and not affecting climate as much as a grass crop, e.g. sugar cane, does. In terms of health, white sugar is the most destuctive product for our health together with refined white flour. I certainly won’t make an issue out of this nor change my consumption habits.



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