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Let’s NOT Boycott Palm Oil

August 23, 2010

The pure, untouched virgin rainforests of South East Asia are the lungs of the world and home to plant and animal species that we haven’t even discovered yet. Oh, and did I mention that the Orang Utans also call this place home? Well, not for much longer if we (and that means you too) keep on wanting stuff.

You see, since the 1960’s this area has been home to a growing number of palm plantations, palm trees that yield the oil that greases the cosmetics (and other) industries. Growing demand has led to growing concern for the environment as palm farmers and local governments struggle to balance competing needs.

Meanwhile Orang Utans are not the only species loosing out in this rush to keep world business turning.

So why shouldn’t we boycott Palm Oil? Let’s have a look at the facts:

  1. Palm oil is one of the highest yielding oil crops suitable for food and industrial use.  Average figures show that it produces in the region of 4MT of oil per hectare farmed.  Another popular oil Canola only yields between 1.5-2MT per hectare.
  2. Palm oil is one of the most chemically rich and diverse oils on offer yielding vitamin E, a wide range of fatty acids, glycerine and oils that contain many other trace nutrients.  It stands head and shoulders above its competitors of soy, canola and sunflower oil.
  3. Palm is relatively healthy as it contains no trans-fat and is rich in tocotrienols which help keep the body healthy.
  4. Palm is a very cost-effective crop to grow as it is hardy, fast growing and water efficient.
  5. Palm is 100% natural and can be grown sustainably.

With all of these benefits listed you may either be sitting there fuming and saying “BUT ANIMALS ARE SUFFERING”  or you may be thinking “What is all the fuss about?”   Whatever camp you are in it is important to think about the detail as that is where the solution is hiding.

The detail is this,  palm oil is a good oil BUT irresponsible farming,  short-sighted land management practices, the re-zoning of land and unbridled demand is BAD and is causing problems.

SO we can choose our solution:

  • BOYCOTT PALM.  This action, without further lifestyle modification will mean that we shift the problem from a high-yielding crop to another possibly less economic crop that has to grow somewhere. We feel ‘clean’ but somewhere in the world, the problem still exists.  Also Palm doesn’t just get listed as ‘palm’ on labels of products as it is one of the key feedstocks in the non-petroleum surfactant industry – difficult, expensive and mostly pointless to try to avoid.
  • CHANGE YOUR HABITS. This may be quite a radical move but the main way that you can avoid increasing demand for this or any other oil is to buy less. You could make your own food, cosmetics and cleaning products and cut back on convenience. This could really have a difference to both your health and the health of the planet. 

BUT that is a bit tricky for most so.

  • Support efforts for a sustainable palm oil industry and greater supply chain transparency.  Efforts to clean up palm oil farming are growing and it makes sense to support this.  The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil Farming is an organisation spanning  industry, government and consumer groups to look at creating a more environmental responsible industry. It is early days yet and sustainable palm still only accounts for a minority of the palm farmed BUT this can and is changing.

So, my message is simple. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this issue. We can make a difference by either changing our habits and buying NOTHING or by supporting a move to sustainable farming. Boycotting palm in favour of another crop is a bit like cleaning up by shoving stuff under your bed.

Let’s play our part in moving this industry forward.

I like this piece by Taronga Zoo, this is the link to the Round Table and the World Wildlife Fund.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 1:40 pm

    Great post! Sustainable palm oil is out there, and the price is not that much higher than traditional palm. If we shift our buying habits, the farmers will shift their practices to follow the market demand for organic, sustainable palm farming.

  2. January 29, 2012 6:08 am

    See Daily Mail article on an orangutan surrounded by hunters that are going to kill her. Pathetic to think this should be supported.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      February 13, 2012 2:52 pm

      Who’s supporting it?
      Thanks for the link.

      • November 8, 2012 9:33 am

        It’s hard to credit ones crediblity who goes by the name of “RealizeBeauty” claiming to talk about the Rain Forest. Reading the National Geographic articles on Borneo there’s only one word for whats going on: “rape”. Is this one of those “almost” rape cases? I kinda doubt it. Ive heard things about Hemp. What about that?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
        November 8, 2012 11:00 am

        I do not make any apologies for my views and do not see this as one of those ‘almost rape’ cases. It is what it is. We all use too much stuff and swapping palm for a lesser yielding crop just because we think that orang Uranus are cuddly is, in my mind quite short sighted. Tank you for taking the time to comment. I hope that you had time to read all of the palm posts.

  3. February 20, 2012 6:22 am

    ARE YOU SO DUMB?! I honestly don’t think you have done your research well.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      March 2, 2012 8:38 pm

      Why thank you so much Gillian, if you would like to back that up I would love to hear your side of the story.

  4. April 3, 2012 9:28 am

    What’s the most current source of info about which companies use sustainable vs. non-sustainable practices? How do we best encourage manufacturers to both support sustainable resources and educate locals on the unique value of their ecosystems…. orangutans included?

    I agree with your baby-bathwater insight. Everything we do, everything we use, has consequences. We need to figure out the path of least harm.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      April 3, 2012 2:05 pm

      Well, the biggest problem is still one of traceability. If you look at the minutes of the meetings from the RSPO (which are available on their website) they admit that there is still much to do in this regard. This very complex problem needs the backing of large private enterprise as they have the money and the reach required to facilitate a global solution – locally politicians are torn between the want and need to support industry and the management of forests globally whereas international brands want to be able to stand behind their products when they say that they are sustainable. The biggest brands are able to have someone on the ground working with this all of the time whereas smaller brands who value evidence can’t always afford that so I tend to avoid shouting out individual companies. Generally speaking all of the big guns are behind RSPO but whether that is translating into a solution is another thing altogether. I don’t think I answered the question so here is my final bit – I’d love to see a world where we can get to grips with the real issue rather than the show pony headlines ie: Let’s talk about land use, efficient farming, more efficient formulating of products, valuing our resources more and educating everyone about the long-term damage to our health cutting the rain forests down will have. Education, education, education. But not the kind that ends in a showy sound bite, the kind that actually feels right and deserves a bit of elbow grease to pull off. Thanks for the question.

  5. May 9, 2012 11:54 pm

    How ELSE do you effect change than by exposing evil actions and hitting people in the ONLY place they will feel it but in $$$ ??

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      May 13, 2012 10:40 pm

      Evil actions? Such as what? Such as growing a highly productive crop that solves more problems than it creates? The only ‘evil action’ that I can see is over consumption and that is best dealt with in a totally different way. If we truly valued our resources we would not be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. More than 1/2 of the stuff we in the western world buy is not needed (me included). We should stop buying instead of indulging in ‘swap’ buying. Palm oil is not the issue, we are.


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