Sustainable palm oil
In recent months, palm oil, and palm oil boycotts, have received a huge amount of media attention. As you’ll see below however, palm oil use is a complex issue and one that is not easily answered with a simple yes/no!
Why do we promote sustainable palm oil?
Along with very many other conservation organisations, our view is that promoting sustainably grown palm oil is the most effective way for people to help. Palm oil itself isn’t the problem – it’s actually a very versatile, efficient, and high yielding crop that provides a livelihood for millions of people in tropical countries. It requires far less space than other similar oil crops which means that if palm oil were banned, you would need to use far more space to grow the next best alternative. The problem arises from how it is grown, and it’s this issue that sustainable palm oil is trying to address.
What is unsustainable palm oil?
The palm oil industry provides the world’s most widely used vegetable oil. It comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree which grows in tropical climates, for example in South East Asia (although it is native to central Africa). Increased demand for palm oil has led to a huge increase in commercial plantations, which in turn has led to the destruction of vast areas of tropical rainforest, home to many already rare species such as orang utans and tigers.
Unsustainable palm oil is grown on land that has been newly deforested, and it is this loss of tropical forest habitat that is having such a devastating effect on many species (such as our Bornean orang utans). Sustainable palm oil is generally grown by reusing already deforested land, rather than clearing new areas. The main organisation that accredits sustainable palm oil and palm oil producers is called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – you might see their logo on some supermarket products. Although there are still some issues to resolve with accreditation and enforcement, we believe that supporting the RSPO and pushing for greater sustainability will have much more impact than simply saying ‘no’ to palm oil. In fact, by boycotting palm oil you could actually create less demand for sustainable land use!
Why not just ban palm oil?
Many manufacturers and many UK supermarkets are already well advanced in increasing the amount of sustainable palm oil in their products. At the present time, these are not always labelled as such on the packets so it can be difficult to know what to buy and from where. Palm oil is in over 50% of the products you see for sale in supermarkets (including many non-food items) so removing it from the weekly shop is fraught with difficulties. Manufacturers will respond to consumer demand however, so the more interest there is in sustainable palm oil, the more likely they are to use it and label it. As we said at the beginning, using the next best oil won’t solve the problem, it will just move it to another area, and other species. Sustainable production means that we can continue to use palm oil, support developing economies, and minimise any further loss of wildlife and wild places.
What are we doing?
We do not sell any products that contain unsustainable palm oil in our shops and catering outlets, so you can tuck into a whole range of tasty treats with a clear conscience!
What can you do?
- Support supermarkets and manufacturers that use sustainable palm oil. Email them about the issue and ask them to consider clear labelling that identifies where sustainable palm oil has been used.
- Encourage supermarkets and manufacturers to go one step further with sustainable palm oil. Certified sustainable palm oil can be accredited in different ways – the best ones are identity-preserved or segregated sources. This means that the palm oil in the product can be traced all the way back to a certified source and will not have come into contact with unsustainable palm oil along the way. Many companies still use what is called ‘mass balance’ oil, where sustainable and unsustainable sources are mixed but are, on balance, more sustainable than not. This is a step in the right direction but we should encourage suppliers that they need to do more!
- If your favourite supermarket or product contains palm oil that is not sustainable, email them to ask why not! Remember, it’s not just food – many cleaning products and cosmetics also contain the oil.
- Adopt an animal here at the Zoo! Palm oil production affects many rare species; adopting an animal here at the zoo helps to support our efforts to conserve them for the future. Orang utans, tigers, and otters are all species you can adopt whose wild relatives are threatened by palm oil production.
You can find out what your local supermarkets and brands are doing to become more sustainable by downloading the WWF Palm Oil Scorecard here.
Find out more about palm oil from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) here.
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