There is no doubt. The current palm oil situation is horrifying. Sumatra has lost almost half of its forests in the last 25 years. Only around 6,600 Sumatran Orangutans remain in the wild, and around 60,000 of all orang-utans in the world, threatened by both habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade.
There are plans to wipe another 1.2 million hectares of forest off the map in Sumatra, replacing some of the most biodiverse rainforests in the world with gold mining, oil palm plantations, logging and roads. These forests are the only place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos co-exist – and all are critically endangered.
Experts have warned that if these plans go ahead, all these iconic species could face extinction within 10 to 20 years.
We have to speak up for the planet!
The Big Question
Can I live palm oil free?
Right now? No.
That sounds weak, but I’ll clarify. I will not buy anything else with palm oil in for my personal use. I will however, have to use up the products that are already in my home; I don’t think waste is eco-friendly either. I also still need to buy dairy-free spread for my husband, so I will commit to only buying palm oil products that are responsibly sourced.
For myself, thanks to my Orangutanuary challenge I have new palm oil free shower supplies, cleaning supplies and plenty of recipes for delicious palm oil free meals and snacks. Once my palm oil inclusive, and even non-vegan products are used up they will not be replaced with anything that isn’t 100% cruelty-free. There is simply no excuse except laziness or ignorance for buying otherwise. It’s takes time, you need to do your homework, but hopefully blogs like this will make it easier for you than it was for me!
What was easy?
Eating 🙂 After realising there’d be no more Co-operative jam doughnuts, or M&S iced and spicy buns, or Swedish Glace vanilla ice cream (I think I’m going to cry!), it was OK. It’s made me cook even more, find new recipes, follow new accounts on Twitter and Instagram.
The community. There are so many wonderful people out there fighting for the rainforest, for its inhabitants, for our planet and our children’s future. It’s encouraging, supportive and inspiring.
What was hard?
Being lied to! The saga with LUSH made me realise it’s too easy to fall for the marketing spin. You have to do your research. An internet network full of palm oil free articles, and stores filled with staff claiming all products are palm oil free, does not a palm oil free company make!
Makeup – this I haven’t cracked, so I’m still on the hunt for palm oil free vegan makeup.
There are other questions this month has raised for me.
Is palm oil vegan?
Vegans believe all animals have the right to live free from harm. But there is no doubt that the deforestation for palm oil crops is harming many species, including humans.
Look at these images. How can we deny the suffering this deforestation is causing?
Vegans are also concerned with the environmental impact of animal agriculture, removing meat so as not to support the leading cause of climate change. But as land is cleared and burned for palm oil, enormous quantities of carbon are being released into the atmosphere. This makes Indonesia the third largest contributor to carbon emissions globally!
Watch this video from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to see what is at threat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dcwCPikDoY&feature=youtu.be
So if palm oil agriculture is as damaging to the planet and its inhabitants as this, how can we still support it?
Many vegans believe palm oil is not vegan. I don’t think I’m ready to step that far. I don’t feel my veganism is anywhere near perfect and to judge anyone else in their achievement of that label would be hypocritical. Maybe I don’t want to lose the valuable community I’ve gained and their support by being declared not-vegan if I’m not totally palm oil free. I almost feel avoidance of palm oil is an additional ecological fight, not inclusive in veganism, for me. But please, vegan or veggie, omnivore or herbivore, please assess your consumption of palm oil products, before it is too late!
Should we even live palm oil free?
This is a message from the chair of Orangutan SOS
“Avoiding palm oil may not help orangutans. Whilst we appreciate that individuals may wish to distance themselves from the threat the industry poses to orangutans and their habitat, we do not believe that boycotting palm oil is the solution.
It is the most productive oil crop in the world, so much more land would need to be sacrificed if companies switched to using an alternative. For example, it would take up to 10 times as much land to produce the same amount of soybean oil.
Also, boycotting palm oil could drive the price down. It would then become more attractive for biofuels and livestock feed, and possibly lead to increased demand, especially in India and China, the biggest importers of palm oil.
In addition, over 4.5 million people in Indonesia currently rely on the palm oil industry as their primary source of income.
All agriculture has a footprint, and palm oil is here to stay. What we need to do is ensure that it is cultivated in the least damaging way possible. Oil palms do not need to be grown at the expense of biodiverse forests – we need to demand an end to deforestation for palm oil in order to safeguard orangutans, and the precious rainforests they inhabit”
You can download the SOS Palm Oil Fact Sheet here
Whether to boycott completely is up to you. Even if you don’t feel able to give up palm oil completely, I believe voicing our concern to all manufacturers is essential. Everyone must know we care and this is too important to ignore; that we will not accept any conflict palm oil in our food, home or beauty products. If anything you own lists palm oil, or one of these alternative names, please write to, email, tweet or Facebook the company to demand explanation of its origin. And if you don’t plan on using it again tell them why! Noone should get away with buying conflict palm oil.
If companies don’t feel obliged to source responsible palm oil they will continue to buy the cheaper alternative, creating less market opportunities for the responsible growers, and making them less likely to continue. Don’t let what little progress is being made go backwards. Be heard!
Is there really any such thing as sustainable palm oil?
Much of what I write in this section is really from the SOS Fact Sheet. I agree with their stance that responsible production means more than sustainable.
There is no one definition of sustainable palm oil. Each market sector is free to use its own definition. And unfortunately, there is no logo that tells you if the palm oil used in that product was responsibly sourced. Companies can all make their own pledges to source more responsibly but these vary in their strength of commitment. You can do you own research, or try out the various ‘scorecards’ that have been produced.
SOS recommends supporting companies who have made strong commitments and are working with environmental groups like RSPO and POIG.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a membership organisation that audits members in order for them to achieve a label of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). With the lack of clarity on what sustainable palm oil is, the RSPO standards have ended up becoming synonymous with the term. However, the RSPO has been criticised for surprisingly low standards and even failure to enforce them. They were set up 15 years ago, yet the situation is more critical than ever, so how can they be successful? Companies only have to gain certification for part of their operations, and progress towards 100%, but I don’t know for sure if this is enforced. So even if a company tells you their palm oil is CSPO, you might still choose not to buy it.
The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), which I’d not heard anything about before, is a collection of NGOs and palm oil producers committed to operations free of deforestation and peat land conversion. Their charter is much more stringent. POIG’s website says “POIG remains the only initiative that is able to deliver independently verified and truly responsible palm oil, produced by companies whose practices go beyond the requirements of the RSPO.” You can find out their member at the link above.
Green Palm certificates are another phrase I’ve encountered this month and I thought this meant all palm oil with a green palm certificate was sustainably sourced. This isn’t necessarily the case. When roundtable growers cannot sell their produce on the premium market, they can issue virtual credits instead. Consumer goods companies and brands can then buy these Green Palm certificates as a means of offsetting their purchase of non-sustainable palm oil. So there is nothing to stop companies offsetting their unsustainable purchases with certificates.
For example, Premier Foods replied to my enquiry stating: “Premier Foods sources 100% sustainable palm oil. Since the beginning of 2010, 100% of the palm oil used by Premier Foods has been sourced through the Green palm programme.” So now, I could believe it’s 100% sustainable, or that actually any unsustainable palm oil used was simply offset with someone else’s certificates. I don’t honestly know how to trust this now!
For me, I’m not going to stop asking where the palm oil is coming from. If you care too, don’t let mine be a solo voice. Ask too, even if you know the answer, to show people care!
I’m going to keep avoiding palm oil products. I can’t look at the images and consider the loss of these beautiful creatures and still be a part of their suffering. Consider the deforestation is not just for palm though, but paper too, so look out for recycled or FSC certified products.
If you want to do more than avoid palm oil derived ingredients, why not raise your voice with the Rainforest Action Network and demand a moratorium for the Leuser Ecosystem.
The future is ‘in your palm’