Palm Oil doesn’t have a good reputation because rain forests and peat bogs are destroyed, land rights not respected and minimum social standards for workers often don’t exist.
Yet palm oil is not a „bad“ oil. The yield of palm oil is exceptionally high. Every other oil plant needs more area, for example soya 6 times as much to produce the same amount. Per hectare palm oil can produce up to 4 tons of oil, rape and sunflowers a maximum of 1-2 tons, coconut palm trees only 0,77 tons. And palm oil is the only crop plant which produces two different oil types which are important for the industry: palm oil from the fruit flesh and palm kernel oil from the kernels. Due to the high worldwide demand of oils the cultivation of alternatives would surely in the long term lead to the same problems if not even bigger ones (e.g. deforestation for soya cultivation).
Its chemical properties making it firm at room temperature (no chemical hardening necessary), its neutral taste, heat stability, long shelf life and the low price cultivation are increasing its popularity as a cheap commodity for food manufacturers. Taking our growing world population and the economic growth of countries such as China and India and their increasing demand for food into consideration, the palm oil tree with its high yield per hectare can be a good choice.
I don’t think that we can generally stop palm oil in our food. But as consumers we are responsible for buying products which have been produced sustainably. Maybe the destruction of the environment can be stopped by concentrating the cultivation of palm oil on existing plantations and areas. Certification systems and consumer demand for sustainable palm oil might finally encourage gouvernments to do more for the protection of their environment and to implement laws which exist only on paper into actual action.
What we can do however is boyott so-called green fuels! Recent figures show that 61% of palm oil imports into the EU are used for biofuels. The price difference in Germany is 2 Cent per litre. This is a small price to pay for our planet! Here an interesting article in German on palm oil in fuel: https://www.regenwald.org/news/7284/palmoel-1
What I didn’t know so far: Our health can also be compromised by excessive consumption of palm oil. Palm oil contains around 50% saturated fatty acids. In comparison: Coconut oil (92%), palm kernel oil (84%), butter (66%), cocoa butter (62%) and suet (54%). Nestlé states matter-of-factly: “Only the excessive consumption of saturated fatty acids can have a negative influence on the blood lipid levels.” But exactly that is the problem: Palm oil is included in so many food products now that we are constantly consuming it and not consciously in only one specific product. In Germany the changed food labeling now allows consumers to see where palm oil is included. And to be honest in some products it is just totally unnecessary in my opinion. For example in Dr. Oetker’s jam sugar where it helps to prevent froth forming. More in my post here.
In my opinion the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) is too weak as it has agreed upon a minimum of standards in order to group together all members.
The POIG (Palm Oil Innovation Group) has gone a step further and has taken the RSPO’s standards further and defined higher ones, e.g. ban of poisonous pesticides, no use of peat bogs for plantations, use only of former grazing areas and cotton plantations (no deforestation).
The Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP) is a fusion of companies, associations and NGOs with the aim to significantly boost the proportion of segregated, certified palm oil and palm kernel oil or corresponding derivatives on the German, Austrian and Swiss markets and to make 100% segregated certified palm oil and palm kernel oil available for these markets as soon as possible.
- http://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/sendunge/der-haushaltscheck/video-palmoel–perfektes-fett-oder-rohstoff-mit-verheerenden-folgen-100.html (40 minute long film – in German – well worth watching!)
Update May 2018
This recent article by The Guardian shows that we have learnt nothing. We are driving the orangutans to extinction despite the promises of multinational corporations to take action.