It’s in your toothpaste, your chocolate, your lipstick, your detergent, and even your ice cream. In fact, palm oil is in more than 50 percent of all packaged products sold in America’s grocery stores, and the ingredient, when not responsibly sourced, is wreaking havoc on our environment. Sadly, this issue over palm oil production isn’t new and large corporations that promised to source this ingredient transparently and responsibly, like Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson&Johnson, and PepsiCo, are not upholding their end of the bargain.
Tropically grown, palm oil originated in Western Africa, but can thrive anywhere that heat and rain are plentiful. Today, according to Say No to Palm Oil, crops are “grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85 percent of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia, but most of the time not using sustainable measures.” Although this doesn’t sound malicious, the impact on the environment and its residents, both human and animal, is truly devastating.
The World Wildlife Federation claims “palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet,” and because of this, the demand for usable land in order to grow crops has risen drastically. Uncontrolled and unregulated clearing of these forests done to make way for palm oil plantations has resulted in the destruction of the biodiversity and ecosystems in the countries where it is produced. This has not only affected native species who called the forests home, but it is also believed to be a significant contributor to climate change. Moreover, the removal process is known to involve the burning of healthy trees and undergrowth, letting off large amounts of smoke and polluting its surroundings, “making Indonesia the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world,” says Say No to Palm Oil.
Many of the 300,000 different animals and wildlife that inhabit the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra are injured, killed, and displaced during deforestation practices used to clear land to make way for palm oil plantations. Orangutans in particular have been severely victimized, with government data showing that more than 50,000 have already died over the course of twenty years as a direct result of palm oil production. It’s said that orangutans have been found buried alive, while others have been killed from machete, guns, and other weapons, and mothers are specifically targeted by poachers so that their babies can be taken or sold as pets or entertainment for tourism parks.
Although the lure of the palm oil trade is one that claims to benefit the native people by bringing development to poor regions, the effects are actually quite the opposite. Governments allow these large corporations to seize land from the indigenous people for their own financial benefit. Furthermore, palm oil is believed to be linked to child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia who are afflicted by heat exhaustion, cuts and bruises, and little to no pay for their efforts.
So how is this perpetuated by big businesses? According to a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the large corporations that formerly promised their consumers to make a serious effort to phase out irresponsibly sourced palm oil with “no deforestation” pledges are appearing to seriously drop the ball. After a survey of 14 of such companies, the results found that none of them can say with certainty that there is no deforestation being committed by their palm oil suppliers, nor have they published a full list of these suppliers. Three of the companies involved, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson&Johnson, and PepsiCo, are some of the most well-known and worst offenders, not that it comes as any surprise considering these are also the brands that still find the antiquated practice of animal testing acceptable.
Many of these corporations rely on something called GreenPalm certificates endorsed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is essentially a lazy attempt at quickly and easily buying “sustainably” sourced palm oil from suppliers that make it seem as though the effort is real, while still opting for regular or irresponsibly sourced product at other times. Greenpeace is said to have criticized both Colgate-Palmolive and PepsiCo for using tactics like these because even with these certificates traceability is poor.
Without action and pressure from consumers, it’s likely that very little will change. Eliminating palm oil entirely would drastically cut back on what you’re able to buy, especially when recalling that there’s an estimated 50 percent of palm oil-containing products in supermarkets, but making small changes, like boycotting the worst offenders or making a concerted effort to do a little research before venturing out to the store could make a big difference. If or until palm oil is required to be identified on labels, it will be up to us as consumers to take a stand against deceptive palm oil production and the devastation it leaves behind.
For a wallet-sized ingredient list of what palm oil can be hidden as in our products, please visit Palm Oil in Disguise.
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