Better Palm Oil

About palm oil

You may not realize it, but chances are good that you have already used palm oil today.

Oil palms only grow in the tropics. Today, 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Oil palms are grown on both large-scale plantations and small-scale family farms. When combined, all palm oil plantations would cover an area almost the size of Brazil.

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil taken from the pulp of the fruits that grow on oil palms. To extract the oil, palm fruits are pressed in palm oil mills.

Why do we use palm oil?

Palm oil is used in many of the products on supermarket shelves. You can find it in about half of all packaged foods. Palm oil is a unique ingredient in many products because:

  • It has great cooking properties – it maintains its properties even under high temperatures.
  • Its smooth and creamy texture and absence of smell make it a perfect ingredient in many recipes, including baked goods (such as biscuits) in particular.
  • It has a natural preservative effect which extends the shelf life of food products.

 

Palm oil has many advantages. It is the highest-yielding vegetable oil crop, which makes it very efficient. It needs less than half the land required by other crops to produce the same amount of oil. This makes palm oil the least expensive vegetable oil in the world.

It is used in a wide range of products, from margarine and chocolate to ice cream, soaps, cosmetics, and fuel for cars and power plants.

India, China, Indonesia and Europe are the main consumers of palm oil. It is estimated that a French person consumes on average 2kg of palm oil per year, or 6% of total fat consumption of an adult between the ages of 18 and 72 (source: Fonds Français pour l’Alimentation et la Santé, Etat des lieux, November 2012)

 

What is the impact of palm oil farming on the environment?

In some regions, oil palm cultivation has caused – and continues to cause – deforestation. This means that land, which was once predominantly covered by primary forest (forest that has never been touched by man) or which housed protected species and biodiversity, was cleared in order to be converted into palm oil plantations.

Likewise, some palm oil plantations were developed without consulting local communities over the use of their land. Some have even been responsible for forcibly displacing people from their land. Violations of workers’ rights to fair payment and safe working conditions and other malpractices have also occurred.

Despite widely-reported malpractices in the industry, a growing number of players in the palm oil industry have committed to adopting more sustainable practices. The result of this gradual transition is an increasing amount of palm oil in our products that has been produced and sourced in a sustainable manner.

Why can't we simply replace palm oil?

Although using other vegetable oils seems like a practical solution, it would actually create similar _ if not even larger - environmental and social problems. Therefore, the best solution is to ensure you buy products that contain sustainable palm oil.

There is a misconception that these concerns can be addressed when companies simply stop using palm oil in their products. However, this is not as easy as it sounds for a number of reasons:

  1. Replacing palm oil with other types of vegetable oil (such as sunflower, soybean or rapeseed oil) would mean that much larger amounts of land would need to be used, since palm trees produce 4-10 times more oil than other crops per unit of cultivated land. This would result in serious environmental damage, with the risk that more forests would need to be converted into agricultural land.
  2. In producing countries, millions of farmers and their families work in the palm oil sector. Palm oil plays an important role in the reduction of poverty in these areas. In Indonesia and Malaysia, a total of 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Stopping the production of palm oil altogether would create significant problems for these people who support their families by working in this industry.
  3. Replacing palm oil with other types of oil is not always feasible due to palm oil’s unique properties as food ingredient. Using other oils would not give the products the same texture and taste that palm oil offers.