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The Palm Oil Crisis

By: Laura Mehan, Education Specialist
published Mon September 09, 2013 The Palm Oil Crisis

Quick! Grab the closest food item you have! I’m not going to ask you to eat it, although you are more than welcome to and I’m most assuredly not going to talk to you about nutrition. What I would like you to do is look at the ingredients of what you grabbed -the key word you’re looking for is Palm Oil (or one of it’s many thousand derivatives, they disguise it very well). I grabbed a Hershey Bar, and lo and behold it has palm oil in it.

            Now you’re probably wondering, what in the world is the big deal, so there’s palm oil in it? The big deal is palm oil is in just about everything you eat and use- it’s found in your food, bath products, cleaning products, make-up – EVERYTHING! And this is where our problem arises. Let’s start from the very beginning - with the oil palm.

            These oil producing trees are predominately grown on the islands of Indonesia. They are highly efficient trees, each cluster of fruit contains about 50% oil and the trees themselves require 10% or less of the land that is required for other oil producing crops. In that, there is a very high demand for palm oil, unfortunately this demand is now leading to palm oil plantations. These plantations are leading to the deforestation of millions of acres of rainforest on the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and others and putting thousands of species at risk. In fact some of these species could become extinct within the next 10-15 years because of the high demand for palm oil. Some of the animals at risk are the Bornean and Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino, Sumatran Elephant, and Malayan Tapir. The loss of their habitat also increases the likelihood of illegal poaching, illegal trade and food depletion.

            After reading all of that, your first thought might be: Let’s boycott palm oil! It’s a good plan at first thought, but if you boycott palm oil, you’re creating more problems. So this is where Certified Sustainable Palm Oil comes in. By using palm oil from a sustainable plantation, you are:

  • Ensuring that the land used for the plantations is reused land, and that rainforests were not a factor in the production of the oil.
  • Utilizing the most efficient oil crop we have. It produces 5-10 times more oil than other crops like soy or canola.
  • Maintaining the livelihood of the nations that produce palm oil, which is a large part of their economy. Without palm oil, millions would become unemployed and suffer.
  • Preventing another oil crop from taking its place, because let’s be realistic, we’re always going to need oil.

So, its only common sense to use certified sustainable palm oil because it is different than regular palm oil. It produces oil in a way that minimizes the impact on the wildlife, indigenous people and the planet.

Finding sustainable palm isn’t that hard either. Thousands of companies are taking the pledge to use certified sustainable palm oil in their products and many places, like the Hattiesburg Zoo, are only selling palm oil friendly products in an effort to safeguard the planet. The Hershey’s bar I grabbed at the beginning of this entry, it uses sustainable palm oil, and chances are what you grabbed does too. If you go over to our edZOOcation tab, and click on Palm Oil Crisis, we have a palm oil friendly shopping guide for you to download and print and you might be surprised what’s on there! So the next time you go shopping, buy your food and other products with the comfort and satisfaction in knowing that you are maintaining the lives of people and animals around the world.

Also, besides shopping responsibly, there are other ways to help with the palm oil crisis. So head over to the Palm Oil Crisis page and figure out what you can do to help!