The tragedy of palm oil
Published: Nov 23, 2018What is palm oil anyway?
Many of you will have seen recent social media coverage of palm oil and palm oil boycotts. We thought this would be a good opportunity to highlight the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust's position on palm oil.
OK, so what’s palm oil anyway?
Along with 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 much less space than 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’s sustainable palm oil?
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. Sustainable palm oil is generally grown by reusing already deforested land, rather than clearing new areas. The main organisation that accredits sustainable palm oil is called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – you might see their logo on some supermarket products. Although there are some issues with accreditation, we believe that supporting the RSPO and pushing for sustainability will have greater, long lasting impact than simply saying ‘no’ to palm oil.
Why make a fuss about it?
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 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. Using the next best oil won’t solve the problem, it will just move it to another area, and other species. Sustainable production means there’s a chance we can continue to use it, and minimise any further loss of wildlife and wild places.