Palm oil can be found in a multitude of products, due to the fact it’s very versatile. This makes it stand out from a lot of the other oils on the market.
Its many different properties mean it can be found in almost 50% of the items we purchase at the supermarket! However, while it’s a useful product for the human race, its continued use is causing a disaster in the animal kingdom.
© Richard Carey / Adobe Stock
Uses for palm oil
Everyone will have noticed palm oil being used in a multitude of cooking applications. At room temperature, it’s semi-solid, so it spreads at the correct consistency. It’s also resistant to oxidation, so it gives products a long shelf-life.
At high temperatures, it remains stable, giving fried products a crunchy, crisp texture. It’s colourless and odourless, so it won’t alter the smell or appearance of food products. In African and Asian countries, palm oil is used as a cooking oil, in the same way that we use olive oil or sunflower oil.
Palm oil is also used in the production of foods, such as chocolate, cookies, doughnuts and pizza. It is used in the manufacture of toiletries, such as deodorants, shampoos, soap, toothpaste and lipstick. It can be used in animal feeds and in some parts of the world, although not in the UK, it’s used as a biofuel.
Impact on the environment
The real danger of using palm oil is the effect it’s having on the rainforests. It continues to be a major cause of deforestation in our most biodiverse forests. The habitats of endangered species such as orangutans, pygmy elephants and Sumatran rhinos are being destroyed.
The loss of the rainforests also means millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases are escaping into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change. Trees prevent erosion of the soil and play a major role in producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the air. Within the palm oil industry, there are also claims of child labour and the exploitation of workers.
All of these are serious issues and there are calls for the palm oil sector to address them as soon as possible. Campaigners are urging people to join the fight against deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund is asking everyone to join its campaign to solve the issues with the food system by fundraising and organising events.
In the Amazon rainforest, which stretches over large parts of Peru, Brazil and Colombia, volunteers have set up a number of animal rescues, including wildlife orphanages, for animals who have lost their homes and families as a result of deforestation.
Volunteers care for orphaned, injured and rescued wildlife until they can release them safely back into the wild. Charities such as Wildlife Rescue and Animal Caretaker, and Animal Rehabilitation and Rainforest Conservation, try to ensure as many animals as possible survive the upheaval of having their homes destroyed.
In 2018, supermarket chain Iceland led the way when it announced it was banning the use of palm oil in its own-brand products. It was the first major supermarket in the UK to ban palm oil, which was used in more than 50% of its products, including everything from soap to biscuits.
Supermarket bosses said campaigners at Greenpeace had alerted them to the way that demand for palm oil was devastating south-east Asia’s tropical rainforests. However, although the ban applies to Iceland’s own-brand products, the retailer hasn’t taken the further step of banning products from other manufacturers that contain palm oil.
What are your thoughts on the use of palm oil in consumer products? Are you concerned about the devastation of the rainforests? If you use products containing palm oil, would you be willing to stop buying them to help save the planet? What factor would influence you most to stop using palm oil products? Has Iceland’s stand made you favour shopping there?