Palm Oil: What’s the Problem?

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Palm Oil is at the forefront of environmental debates at the moment. Most of us know it’s bad, but as for why, we’re not really sure. Turns out, it’s not Palm Oil itself that is the issue, but the consequences caused when it is farmed using unsustainable methods. 

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Palm Oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from certain palm trees. It is predominantly grown in areas of Africa and Asia. According to the ‘Say No to Palm Oil’ campaign, the substance is found in 40-50% of household products in Western countries such as the United States and England. From instant noodles to lipstick, we have become a country reliant on Palm Oil.

For environmental campaigners, the main issue with Palm Oil is the deforestation it causes. While demand rises, the number of palm oil plantations is increasing at a rapid pace. According to the WWF, these mono-culture plantations have negative effects for biodiversity, destroying critical habitats for many endangered species including rhinos, elephants and tigers. In particular, Orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia are suffering from Palm Oil farming. According to the Orangutan Project, the wild orangutan population has decreased by 50% over the past decade. The organisation pinpoint the rise in palm oil plantations as the chief factor in this decline.

Aside from the negative effects on the biodiversity of our world, Palm Oil is becoming an issue for local groups of people. As Palm Oil is normally grown in poorer regions of our earth, palm oil plantations are all too often seen as priority for Asian and African governments. Land owned by natives is often taken for the purpose of growing Palm Oil for financial benefit, causing numerous disputes and tension. Meanwhile, although the industry is undoubtedly providing more employment for natives, it has been linked with major humans rights violations, including that of child labour.

Despite all this gloom, there is good news. Palm Oil can be farmed sustainably! So, the big question remains, how can we help all the way from Southampton? The WWF have an answer. The global charity recommend that when shopping, customers aim to look out for the RSPO or Green Palm labels on products. The RSPO label indicates that products have been made from sustainable Palm Oil. Likewise, the proceeds from products with a Green Palm label are used to help farmers in the transition from unsustainable to sustainable methods of farming.

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Marketing Officer of the Wessex Scene for academic year 2014-15. I'm the one spamming social media! English student who primarily writes for the Environment section.

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