Palm oil (also known as dendê oil, from Portuguese [ˈdɛnde]) is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, and to a lesser extent from the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa.
Palm oil is naturally reddish in color because of a high beta-carotene content. It is not to be confused with palm kernel oil derived from the kernel of the same fruit, or coconut oil derived from the kernel of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). The differences are in color (raw palm kernel oil lacks carotenoids and is not red), and in saturated fat content: palm mesocarp oil is 49% saturated, while palm kernel oil and coconut oil are 81% and 86% saturated fats, respectively.
Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is widespread because of its lower cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying.
The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia to make space for oil-palm monoculture. This has resulted in significant acreage losses of the natural habitat of the orangutan, of which both species are endangered; one species in particular, the Sumatran orangutan, has been listed as critically endangered. In 2004, an industry group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed to work with the palm oil industry to address these concerns. Additionally, in 1992, in response to concerns about deforestation, the Government of Malaysia pledged to limit the expansion of palm oil plantations by retaining a minimum of half the nation's land as forest cover.
Is Palm Oil Vegan?
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Palm oil is just that: oil from the fruit of a palm tree. Sounds as vegan as anything, right? Well, this most certainly plant-derived oil found in processed foods, makeup, household cleaners, toiletries, biodiesel, and more, is far from a black and white ingredient. It’s one of the world’s most hotly debated crops, with concerns over deforestation, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, species extinction, and a slew of human rights violations in its wake, thus begging the question: IS palm oil vegan? Hi it’s Emily from Bite Size Vegan and welcome to another vegan nugget. Today’s video is one that’s been requested more times that I can count and one that I greatly hesitated to produce. Not because I think the truth about palm oil is unimportant by any means, but because when you are a brand new vegan or when you’re considering going vegan, the intricacies of what is or is not vegan beyond meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, can easily overwhelm, leading to the exasperated “well what CAN I eat?!” or even worse “being vegan’s too hard, I might as well not try!” While it’s always important for us to be informed about the products we are choosing, and I believe education is absolutely key, I want to say to brand new or would-be vegans to focus on eliminating animal products first, get your bearings, and you’ll start to find a growing awareness of other elements. This is not to excuse the affects of palm oil we’ll be discussing, but rather to assure you that in removing animal products from your diet, you will be making a huge impact already in all the areas we will be covering. I’m going to attempt to make this video as simple and concise as possible by touching on the major elements. If you want to delve deeper, which I’m always a fan of, and for detailed citations to every study and fact that I’m mentioning, please see the blog post for this video, which has resources and close to 60 academic citations. This issue is terrifically complex and while I’ll relay suggestions at the end, you’ll see it’s difficult to produce a clear-cut yes or no to the videos establishing query. There are three main areas of concern when it comes to palm oil: the impact on the environment, animals, and people. I’ll briefly touch on each, though all three are inextricably linked. Let’s start with the social impact, or human side of palm oil. Once heralded, even by the United Nations, as a high-yielding, environmentally-friendly, economically-viable and even healthy “magic bullet” to help struggling farmers in undeveloped nations build economic stability and provide a cheap yet nutritious source of calories, palm oil production has proven to be far from the golden child of workers' rights. Though some case studies and accounts continue to praise the positive socio-economic aspects of palm oil and it very much has dramatically improved the economies of producing countries, namely Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for up to 90% of palm oil exports, the palm oil industry is rife with human rights abuses including the illegal seizure of indigenous peoples’ lands, labor trafficking, child labor, unprotected work with hazardous chemicals, and long-term abuse of temporary contracts. Palm oil workers, in many cases, end up like indentured servants, struggling to pay back debt. Of course there also exist case studies of villages finding great prosperity from the introduction of plantations, though often new problems can arise from the cash influx like gambling and alcohol consumption. A concretely negative aspect of palm oil farming for humans, the environment and non-human animals alike are toxic pesticides. Pesticide usage isn’t monitored or controlled on plantations with around 25 different types being regularly employed. One of great concern is paraquat, the most toxic herbicide marketed over the past 60 years, which has been banned in 13 countries. Agrochemicals have been shown to be more harmful to women than men, and women on palm oil plantations, as with many crops, are responsible for the mixing, handling and spraying of the pesticides. This brings us into the environmental impact of palm oil production, which is irrevocably enmeshed with the impact on native species. The main elements of concern are the loss of forested land, leading to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, and the extreme greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning peatland, which I’ll explain in a moment. According to the World Watch Institute, Indonesia emits more greenhouse gases than any other country besides China and the United States mainly due to palm oil production, with the World Resources Institute ranking its output as 7th in the world. While clear-cutting forested land in and of itself is environmentally destructive, the conversion of what’s called peatland into plantations is nothing short of devastating. Peat is a water-logged, organic soil layer made up of dead and decaying plant matter that is rich with carbon. Peatlands are vital to the reduction of global warming as they absorb carbon and other greenhouse gasses, and Southeast Asia, where palm oil plantations are blossoming, contains three quarters of the world’s tropical peat-soil carbon. If all of this peat-stored carbon were released into the atmosphere, it would be equivalent to the carbon emissions from about nine years of global fossil fuel use. These vital ecosystems are actually not ideal for palm oil plantations, and ample grasslands and degraded areas exist whereupon plantations could be built, however, companies can subsidize the cost of clearing peatland by selling the timber taken from the areas, and thus follow the most profitable route. To convert peatland into palm oil farms, it has to first be drained, which causes the peat to decompose, leading to heat-trapping emissions that can continue for decades. The peat eventually compacts, falling below the water table at which point it must again be drained. In addition, peat soil is often too acidic for oil palms and must have chemicals added for viability. Possibly the most devastating practice for the environment and human and non-human animals alike is the intentional burning of peatland as an easy way to clear land for agriculture. These fires, which are some of the world’s largest fires on record, release hundreds of years’ worth of carbon and pollutants into the atmosphere and burn for weeks to months. In dry years, the carbon emissions are astronomical. In 1997 fires in Indonesia released as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the United States had for that entire year. And when it comes to the environment, when you outdo the United Sates in your destruction, you know it’s bad. These fires can even become a public health hazard with the smoke and smog from fires in Indonesia in 2013 causing respiratory problems as far away as Malaysia and Singapore. Of course these fires aren’t just destroying the forests, but also the living beings within them. Animals are burned alive while trying to flee and are often massacred by farm workers as they try to escape or purposefully driven back into the flames. In the 1997 fires alone, Borneo’s orangutan population was reduced by one-third when close to 8,000 of these already endangered primates were burned to death or directly killed. Poachers also take advantage of these burns to kill fleeing animals like the Sumatran rhino, which as of 2008 had a population of fewer than 275 individuals. The threat this destruction poses to our world’s biodiversity cannot be overstated. Southeast Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet. While comprising only 3% of the world’s surface, it contains around 20% of all plant, animal and marine species on the planet! It has 4 of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots, which are defined as “a biogeographical region rich in biodiversity but under anthropogenic threat [meaning from human-caused pollution] ..and 70% of its original habitat must have been lost.” The orangutan is certainly the face of palm oil’s devastation to non-human animals, with the critically endangered Sumatran population hovering around 7,300 as of 2004. But hundreds of other threatened species in Southeast Asia are also being horrifically impacted by palm oil production. The Sumatran tigers population, for example, was reported in 2008 to be a paltry 176-271 individuals left, with elephants and rhinos also at great risk. With all of this destruction and violence, what’s being done about palm oil production’s long shadow? In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. Composed of oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social NGOs, the Roundtable has been largely criticized for not implementing its own standards. There are numerous loopholes in the RSPO’s certifications like plantations being “grandfathered” in and extremely subjective language for judging high value conservation forest versus forest green-lighted for clearing. Groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have called for objective parameters for sustainability, such as caps of greenhouse gas emissions, to no avail. Companies like Unilever, who are also RSPO members, are still sourcing their palm oil by unsustainable and ethically questionable methods, with plantation workers crashing the 2013 RSPO meeting with the call “don’t certify exploitation,” and three case studies finding rampant human rights violations at RSPO certified plantations in Indonesia. Novi Hardianto, the Center for Orangutan Protection habitat program coordinator says that despite the RSPO, “Forests are still cleared and orangutans are continually killed…All criteria on sustainable palm oil and certification process are merely public lies.” So, is there hope? And what are we to do as vegans or potential vegans when we walk into a store to make a purchase? Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? And, after all of this, is palm oil even vegan? Well, palm oil, in theory, can be made sustainably by using degraded lands and grasslands instead of forests and on mineral soils instead of peatland. Increasing yield on existing plantations through tree breeding and better management, can reduce the need for using more land. Governments can call for mandatory labeling of palm oil on ingredient labels, as currently there are over 200 palm oil derivative terms in use. Groups like Palm Oil Investigations believe that mandatory labeling will place companies in a position to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, which is different from the RSPO’s stamp, because consumers will be aware of their use of palm oil and be able to demand sustainable sources. They also argue that contacting brands and encouraging them to shift to actual sustainable palm oil is even preferable to full boycotts. The logic being that palm oil companies aren’t going out of business anytime soon and if no one demands truly sustainable options, they’ll keep producing with their current cheap and destructive methods. Of course there’s also the argument that such consumer-driven tactics are vain attempts to fix the underlying problem of capitalism with capitalistic efforts, and that an entire overhauling of our economic systems and food distribution politics is needed. Now I’d like to try and put this into the greater vegan framework, if I may. With any agricultural production, there will be destruction. I have a whole video on whether vegans kill more animals than non-vegans due to the field mice, rabbits and other animals who are unintentionally killed during harvests, as well as a video on whether you can be 100 percent vegan and whether you’re vegan “enough,” all of which address this issue and are linked below. Should we be aware of and constantly striving to educate ourselves about where our food and other products come from and whom they impact? Absolutely. The danger comes when we are so overwhelmed that we throw up our hands and think it’s not worth it to even try. Animal agriculture, as I demonstrated in an extensive video linked there and below, accounts for 51% of global Green House Gas emissions, a staggering 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction, and is itself a leading cause of species extinction and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the deaths of trillions of beings every year. I’m not here to play the numbers game or place the impact of palm oil beneath that of animal products. What I’m trying to say to those of you who are newly vegan or wanting to be vegan is: the efforts you are making are not discounted by those you are learning to make. If we give up entirely because we aren’t perfect, what kind of impact are we having? Yes, we can always improve, which to me is the definition of veganism- doing the best with what we know and always working to educate ourselves and adjust our behavior accordingly. So I would encourage you to look into this further for yourself. Check out the blog post and the resources. I’ve included links to lists of products known to contain palm oil and lists of palm-oil free products as well as a phone app you can use to scan products and check for pam oil and more. Luckily, palm oil is in processed foods, so if you eat a whole foods diet, chances are, you’re largely avoiding it already. But do know that vegan food items, toiletries, cleaning products and more, can contain palm oil. I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you consider palm oil vegan? Whether you’re vegan or non-vegan, do you avoid palm oil in your products and if so, why? What do you think the solution is to this industry? Let me know in the comments. I hope that this has been helpful. The time it to produce this video clocks in at around ____ . If you’d like to help support Bite Size Vegan so I can keep putting hours to bring you this educational resources, please check out the support links in the video description below where you can give a one-time donation or receive perks and rewards for your support by joining the Nugget Army--the link for that is also in the iCard sidebar. If you enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up. If you’re new, be sure to hit that big red subscribe button down there for more awesome vegan content every Monday, Wednesday, and some Fridays! Now go live vegan, always keep learning, and I’ll see you soon. Subtitles by the Amara.org community
- 1 History
- 2 Composition
- 3 Processing and use
- 4 Production
- 5 Markets
- 6 Nutrition and health
- 7 Social and environmental impacts
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Human use of oil palms may date as far back as 5,000 years; in the late 1800s, archaeologists discovered a substance that they concluded was originally palm oil in a tomb at Abydos dating back to 3,000 BCE. It is believed that traders brought the oil palm to Egypt.
Palm oil from E. guineensiss has long been recognized in West and Central African countries, and is widely used as a cooking oil. European merchants trading with West Africa occasionally purchased palm oil for use as a cooking oil in Europe.
Palm oil, like all fats, is composed of fatty acids, esterified with glycerol. Palm oil has an especially high concentration of saturated fat, specifically the 16-carbon saturated fatty acid, palmitic acid, to which it gives its name. Monounsaturated oleic acid is also a major constituent of palm oil. Unrefined palm oil is a significant source of tocotrienol, part of the vitamin E family.
The approximate concentration of fatty acids in palm oil is:
Processing and use
After milling, various palm oil products are made using refining processes. First is fractionation, with crystallization and separation processes to obtain solid (stearin), and liquid (olein) fractions. Then melting and degumming removes impurities. Then the oil is filtered and bleached. Physical refining[clarification needed] removes smells and coloration to produce "refined, bleached and deodorized palm oil" (RBDPO) and free sheer fatty acids,[clarification needed] which are used in the manufacture of soaps, washing powder and other products. RBDPO is the basic palm oil product sold on the world's commodity markets. Many companies fractionate it further to produce palm olein for cooking oil, or process it into other products.
Red palm oil
Butter and trans fat substitute
The highly saturated nature of palm oil renders it solid at room temperature in temperate regions, making it a cheap substitute for butter or trans fats in uses where solid fat is desirable, such as the making of pastry dough and baked goods. A recent rise in the use of palm oil in the food industry has partly come from changed labelling requirements that have caused a switch away from using trans fats. Palm oil has been found to be a reasonable replacement for trans fats; however, a small study conducted in 2009 found that palm oil may not be a good substitute for trans fats for individuals with already-elevated LDL levels. The USDA agricultural research service states that palm oil is not a healthy substitute for trans fats.
Biomass and bioenergy
Palm oil is used to produce both methyl ester and hydrodeoxygenated biodiesel. Palm oil methyl ester is created through a process called transesterification. Palm oil biodiesel is often blended with other fuels to create palm oil biodiesel blends. Palm oil biodiesel meets the European EN 14214 standard for biodiesels. Hydrodeoxygenated biodiesel is produced by direct hydrogenolysis of the fat into alkanes and propane. The world's largest palm oil biodiesel plant is the Finnish-operated Neste Oil biodiesel plant in Singapore, which opened in 2011 and produces hydrodeoxygenated NEXBTL biodiesel.
The organic waste matter that is produced when processing oil palm, including oil palm shells and oil palm fruit bunches, can also be used to produce energy. This waste material can be converted into pellets that can be used as a biofuel. Additionally, palm oil that has been used to fry foods can be converted into methyl esters for biodiesel. The used cooking oil is chemically treated to create a biodiesel similar to petroleum diesel.
In wound care
In 2012, the annual revenue received by Indonesia and Malaysia together, the top two producers of palm oil, was $40 billion. Between 1962 and 1982 global exports of palm oil increased from around half a million to 2.4 million tonnes annually and in 2008 world production of palm oil and palm kernel oil amounted to 48 million tonnes. According to FAO forecasts by 2020 the global demand for palm oil will double, and triple by 2050.
Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, surpassing Malaysia in 2006, producing more than 20.9 million tonnes. Indonesia expects to double production by the end of 2030. At the end of 2010, 60 percent of the output was exported in the form of crude palm oil. FAO data show production increased by over 400% between 1994 and 2004, to over 8.66 million metric tonnes.
In 2012, Malaysia, the world's second largest producer of palm oil, produced 18.79 million tonnes of crude palm oil on roughly 5,000,000 hectares (19,000 sq mi) of land. Though Indonesia produces more palm oil, Malaysia is the world's largest exporter of palm oil having exported 18 million tonnes of palm oil products in 2011. China, Pakistan, the European Union, India and the United States are the primary importers of Malaysian palm oil products.
As of 2011, Nigeria was the third-largest producer, with approximately 2.3 million hectares (5.7×106 acres) under cultivation. Until 1934, Nigeria had been the world's largest producer. Both small- and large-scale producers participated in the industry.
In 2013, Thailand produced 2.0 million tonnes of crude palm oil on roughly 626 thousand hectares. Thailand expects to produce 11 million tonnes of fresh palm nuts in 2016, down from more than 12 million in 2015, the shortfall due to Thailand's drought.
In the 1960s, about 18,000 hectares (69 sq mi) were planted with palm. Colombia has now become the largest palm oil producer in the Americas, and 35% of its product is exported as biofuel. In 2006, the Colombian plantation owners' association, Fedepalma, reported that oil palm cultivation was expanding to 1,000,000 hectares (3,900 sq mi). This expansion is being funded, in part, by the United States Agency for International Development to resettle disarmed paramilitary members on arable land, and by the Colombian government, which proposes to expand land use for exportable cash crops to 7,000,000 hectares (27,000 sq mi) by 2020, including oil palms. Fedepalma states that its members are following sustainable guidelines.
Some Afro-Colombians claim that some of these new plantations have been expropriated from them after they had been driven away through poverty and civil war, while armed guards intimidate the remaining people to further depopulate the land, with coca production and trafficking following in their wake.
Palm is native to the wetlands of western Africa, and south Benin already hosts many palm plantations. Its 'Agricultural Revival Programme' has identified many thousands of hectares of land as suitable for new oil palm export plantations. In spite of the economic benefits, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Nature Tropicale, claim biofuels will compete with domestic food production in some existing prime agricultural sites. Other areas comprise peat land, whose drainage would have a deleterious environmental impact. They are also concerned genetically modified plants will be introduced into the region, jeopardizing the current premium paid for their non-GM crops.
Cameroon had a production project underway initiated by Herakles Farms in the US. However, the project was halted under the pressure of civil society organizations in Cameroon. Before the project was halted, Herakles left the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil early in negotiations. The project has been controversial due to opposition from villagers and the location of the project in a sensitive region for biodiversity.
Kenya's domestic production of edible oils covers about a third of its annual demand, estimated at around 380,000 metric tonnes. The rest is imported at a cost of around US$140 million a year, making edible oil the country's second most important import after petroleum. Since 1993 a new hybrid variety of cold-tolerant, high-yielding oil palm has been promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in western Kenya. As well as alleviating the country's deficit of edible oils while providing an important cash crop, it is claimed to have environmental benefits in the region, because it does not compete against food crops or native vegetation and it provides stabilisation for the soil.
Ghana has a lot of palm nut species, which may become an important contributor to the agriculture of the region. Although Ghana has multiple palm species, ranging from local palm nuts to other species locally called agric, it was only marketed locally and to neighboring countries. Production is now expanding as major investment funds are purchasing plantations, because Ghana is considered a major growth area for palm oil.
According to the Hamburg-based Oil World trade journal, in 2008 global production of oils and fats stood at 160 million tonnes. Palm oil and palm kernel oil were jointly the largest contributor, accounting for 48 million tonnes, or 30% of the total output. Soybean oil came in second with 37 million tonnes (23%). About 38% of the oils and fats produced in the world were shipped across oceans. Of the 60.3 million tonnes of oils and fats exported around the world, palm oil and palm kernel oil made up close to 60%; Malaysia, with 45% of the market share, dominated the palm oil trade.
Food label regulations
Previously, palm oil could be listed as "vegetable fat" or "vegetable oil" on food labels in the European Union (EU). From December 2014, food packaging in the EU is no longer allowed to use the generic terms "vegetable fat" or "vegetable oil" in the ingredients list. Food producers are required to list the specific type of vegetable fat used, including palm oil. Vegetable oils and fats can be grouped together in the ingredients list under the term "vegetable oils" or "vegetable fats" but this must be followed by the type of vegetable origin (e.g. palm, sunflower or rapeseed) and the phrase "in varying proportions".
Supply chain institutions
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 following concerns raised by non-governmental organizations about environmental impacts resulting from palm oil production. The organization has established international standards for sustainable palm oil production. Products containing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) can carry the RSPO trademark. Members of the RSPO include palm oil producers, environmental groups, and manufacturers who use palm oil in their products.
The RSPO is applying different types of programmes to supply palm oil to producers.
- Book and claim: no guarantee that the end product contains certified sustainable palm oil, supports RSPO-certified growers and farmers
- Identity preserved: the end user is able to trace the palm oil back to a specific single mill and its supply base (plantations)
- Segregated: this option guarantees that the end product contains certified palm oil
- Mass balance: the refinery is only allowed to sell the same amount of mass balance palm oil as the amount of certified sustainable palm oil purchased
GreenPalm is one of the retailers executing the book and claim supply chain and trading programme. It guarantees that the palm oil producer is certified by the RSPO. Through GreenPalm the producer can certify a specified amount with the GreenPalm logo. The buyer of the oil is allowed to use the RSPO and the GreenPalm label for sustainable palm oil on his products.
Nutrition and health
Much of the palm oil that is consumed as food is cooking oil, to some degree oxidized rather than in the fresh state, and this oxidation appears to be responsible for the health risk associated with consuming palm oil.
According to studies reported on by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), excessive intake of palmitic acid, which makes up 44 percent of palm oil, increases blood cholesterol levels and may contribute to heart disease. The CSPI also reported that the World Health Organization and the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute have encouraged consumers to limit the consumption of palmitic acid and foods high in saturated fat. According to the World Health Organization, evidence is convincing that consumption of palmitic acid increases risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, placing it in the same evidence category as trans fatty acids.
Comparison to trans fats
In response to negative reports on palm oil many food manufacturers transitioned to using hydrogenated vegetable oils in their products, which have also come under scrutiny for the impact these oils have on health. A 2006 study supported by the National Institutes of Health and the USDA Agricultural Research Service concluded that palm oil is not a safe substitute for partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) in the food industry, because palm oil results in adverse changes in the blood concentrations of LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B just as trans fat does. However, according to two reports published in 2010 by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition palm oil is again an accepted replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils and a natural replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are a significant source of trans fats.
Comparison with animal saturated fat
Not all saturated fats have equally cholesterolemic effects. Studies have indicated that consumption of palm olein (which is more unsaturated) reduces blood cholesterol when compared to sources of saturated fats like coconut oil, dairy and animal fats.
A 2009 study tested the emission rates of acrolein, a toxic and malodorous breakdown product from glycerol, from the deep-frying of potatoes in red palm, olive, and polyunsaturated sunflower oils. The study found higher acrolein emission rates from the polyunsaturated sunflower oil (the scientists characterized red palm oil as "mono-unsaturated") and lower rates from both palm and olive oils. The World Health Organization established a tolerable oral acrolein intake of 7.5 mg/day per kilogram of body weight. Although acrolein occurs in French fries, the levels are only a few micrograms per kilogram. A 2011 study concluded a health risk from acrolein in food is unlikely.
Social and environmental impacts
The palm oil industry has had both positive and negative impacts on workers, indigenous peoples and residents of palm oil-producing communities. Palm oil production provides employment opportunities, and has been shown to improve infrastructure, social services and reduce poverty. However, in some cases, oil palm plantations have developed lands without consultation or compensation of the indigenous people occupying the land, resulting in social conflict. The use of illegal immigrants in Malaysia has also raised concerns about working conditions within the palm oil industry.
Some social initiatives use palm oil cultivation as part of poverty alleviation strategies. Examples include the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's hybrid oil palm project in Western Kenya, which improves incomes and diets of local populations, and Malaysia's Federal Land Development Authority and Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority, which both support rural development.
Food vs. fuel
The use of palm oil in the production of biodiesel has led to concerns that the need for fuel is being placed ahead of the need for food, leading to malnourishment in developing nations. This is known as the food versus fuel debate. According to a 2008 report published in the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, palm oil was determined to be a sustainable source of both food and biofuel. The production of palm oil biodiesel does not pose a threat to edible palm oil supplies. According to a 2009 study published in the Environmental Science and Policy journal, palm oil biodiesel might increase the demand for palm oil in the future, resulting in the expansion of palm oil production, and therefore an increased supply of food.
Palm oil cultivation has been criticized for impacts on the natural environment, including deforestation, loss of natural habitats, which has threatened critically endangered species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Many palm oil plantations are built on top of existing peat bogs, and clearing the land for palm oil cultivation contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Efforts to portray palm oil cultivation as sustainable have been made by organizations including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry group, and the Malaysian government, which has committed to preserve 50 percent of its total land area as forest. According to research conducted by the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory, a group studying palm oil cultivation in support of the industry, oil palm plantations act as carbon sinks, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and, according to Malaysia's Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the plantations contribute to Malaysia's status as a net carbon sink.
Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose the use of palm oil biofuels, claiming that the deforestation caused by oil palm plantations is more damaging for the climate than the benefits gained by switching to biofuel and utilizing the palms as carbon sinks.
While only 5 percent of the world's vegetable oil farmland is used for palm plantations, palm cultivation produces 38 percent of the world's total vegetable oil supply. In terms of oil yield, a palm plantation is 10 times more productive than soya bean and rapeseed cultivation because the palm fruit and kernel both provide usable oil.
Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in 2004 following concerns raised by non-governmental organizations about environmental impacts related to palm oil production. The organization has established international standards for sustainable palm oil production. Products containing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) can carry the RSPO trademark. Members of the RSPO include palm oil producers, environmental groups and manufacturers who use palm oil in their products.
Palm oil growers who produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil have been critical of the organization because, though they have met RSPO standards and assumed the costs associated with certification, the market demand for certified palm oil remains low. Low market demand has been attributed to the higher cost of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, leading palm oil buyers to purchase cheaper non-certified palm oil. Palm oil is mostly fungible. In 2011, 12% of palm oil produced was certified "sustainable", though only half of that had the RSPO label. Even with such a low proportion being certified, Greenpeace has argued that confectioners are avoiding responsibilities on sustainable palm oil, because it says that RSPO standards fall short of protecting rain forests and reducing greenhouse gases.
- Elaeis guineensis
- Food vs. fuel
- Palm sugar
- Tropical agriculture
- Social and environmental impact of palm oil
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