What is palm oil and should we be boycotting it? / Iceland’s Christmas advert banned #nopalmoilchristmas

In the last few days it’s been in the news that the Iceland’s Christmas advert has been banned in the UK. The ad was promoting their aim to be Palm Oil free by the end of the year by using a Greenpeace animation about a little Orang-utan called ‘Rang-tan’. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out here. It’s a beautiful video highlighting the damaging affects of Palm Oil. It does have a shock aspect but it’s an issue that is very real and we need to be talking about it more.

PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) Palm Oil Concession in Papua


So what is Palm Oil and why is it bad?

Essentially it’s a cheap vegetable oil found in half of packaged products in supermarkets from biscuits to shampoo, chocolate to lipstick, gravy to toothpaste. Go to your cupboard now and look at the ingredients list on the back of your packaged food. You’d be surprised at the amount of products containing it.

The issue is that Indonesian and Bornean rainforests are being torn down to make way for palm oil plantations at an alarming rate – a football pitch worth every 25 seconds. It’s destroying habitats and forcing indigenous people out of their homes. Orang-utans are one of the most affected, we lose around 25 a day and if we keep going at this rate they will be completely extinct in 8 years.


So should we all be boycotting palm oil?

It’s unfortunately not as simple as that. Palm oil does have some benefits. It’s the most high yielding veg oil in the world and a lot of local small holders are making a living from growing the crop. If we switched to another vegetable oil we would require more land, more resources and we’d be putting a lot of local people out of work.


Is sustainable palm oil the answer?

Currently, the unsustainable ‘dirty’ palm oil involves sucking all the nutrients possible out of the ground and moving on to clear a new patch of rainforest. No longer can anything else be grown on this patch of land but it also becomes very flammable. The sustainable way of sourcing palm oil involves using the same area of land and letting the land regenerate in between planting new trees. The RSPO (Round table for sustainable palm oil) has a certified stamp of approval which you may have seen on some products, although this is still not considered to be trustworthy by some environmental groups. It isn’t perfect and something that requires a lot more research and funding.


So what can we do?

There’s no clear answer to this question unfortunately. Personally I avoid palm oil where I can, buy products that are certified sustainable where I can’t and sign all the petitions I can find to put pressure on these huge companies to drop dirty palm oil. The only way I see this changing is if these companies sourcing dirty palm oil are forced to invest in sustainable, as well as the certification of this so called ‘sustainable’ palm oil to become something we can trust.

Orangutan Rescued in West Kalimantan

I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue and what you are doing to try to avoid / reduce your palm oil intake!

Watch the video on youtube

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