Palm oil is often associated today with images of lush rainforests devastated by fires and innocent animals chased from their natural habitats that the slaughter forester has deprived of habitat. When Iceland (a British supermarket chain) has announced its intention to remove palm oil from all brands of distributor by the end of 2018, it has known an improvement of the perception of the brand and purchase motivation in its regard. Will more companies and of consumers follow the example of this supermarket chain and boycott palm oil? We’ll expose in this article the main advantages and drawbacks of palm oil from an economic as well as an environmental point of view.
Desolated Landscapes born from the Palm Oil abusive exploitation.
The Advantages of Palm Oil
The reasons why palm oil is present everywhere
Palm oil is today present everywhere. If you spread something on your toast at breakfast, enjoyed a cookie with your tea, chewed a piece of gum or even simply brushed your teeth, it is highly likely that you used a product containing palm oil.
It represents more than 40% of the world’s edible oil consumption and is included in the composition of up to 50% of the packaged products. It appears often under other names in ingredient lists, such as glycerol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearic acid, etc.
Unlike most edible oils, its incredible versatility explains why it is so widely
used. It is solid at room temperature and therefore does not need hydrogenation to be used in food products. Hydrogenation produces harmful trans-fatty acids, which are now banned in several countries, forcing producers to evolve. This also means that products containing oil
have a very long shelf life, reducing the risk of damage.
Household and hygiene care products people generally use palm oil for its revitalizing properties that no other oil offers, with the exception of coconut oil, whose environmental footprint is even worse. It is also inexpensive compared to other oils, in large quantities because its yield is higher.
It is difficult to find a substitute to palm oil
The heart of the problem lies in the fact that oil palm trees are much more productive than other oilseeds (soybean, sunflower, etc). Today, Palm oil is currently produced from just 10 percent of all farmland dedicated to growing oil crops, yet accounts for 40 percent of the global volume of all vegetable oils.
If we were to replace it with other types of oil, much more land would therefore be needed. For example, replace it with soybean oil, its closest substitute would require planting 185 million hectares of new soybeans, or approximately 8 times the area of the United Kingdom or one-third of the Amazonian forest.
While palm oil is typically associated with deforestation, it is not the only – or even the main – cause. Indeed, palm oil was the third-largest contributor to global deforestation in the 1990s and 2000s – after soybeans production and corn. Even in Indonesia, which is the largest palm oil producer, palm oil represents only 10-15% of tropical deforestation . Of course, if this 10% of forest loss is still too much but it is interesting to note that it creates a disproportionate share of the media’s and the public’s wrath.
The Danger of Palm Oil
Is Palm Oil totally necessary?
Although it is difficult to deny its versatility, how important is the usage of this oil ? The reduction of trans fatty acids positively justifies its use in food products, but palm oil is also a key ingredient of the products and personal hygiene, for which there is no argument for the nutritional value is not to be claimed and so its usage in these products is not necessary.
Unilever, the largest private buyer of palm oil, gets 60.3% of its revenues from products containing palm oil. Palm Oil is used in household and beauty products for its aesthetic properties: for example, to give a pearly appearance liquid detergents and shampoos.
Disastrous consequences on mainly two countries
With 85 % of Palm Oil coming from two countries only – Indonesia and Malaysia – the concentrated offer could be threatened by a pandemic similar to that of the coronavirus or, more likely, by a climatic risk.
The purchasing companies do not seem to take note of this risk. Leading companies, which report their exposure to forest products estimate that the
the main risk to which they are exposed is the risk of reputation (45%), followed by physical (30%) and regulatory risks (30%).
At this time, the total replacement of palm oil is not a viable option. That said, given the damage that its production generates, as well as the Continuing on the same path can have irreversible effects.
The companies need to rethink their business model, their palm oil strategy allowing themself to reduce or replace palm oil ingredients in the final product.