Palm Oil; it's a sneaky little ingredient we can't taste and most of us don't really know what it it is and yet it is used in approximately half of all packaged items in the supermarket including food, cosmetics and detergents. It is also a major culprit in deforestation, animal endangerment and cruelty and contributes to climate change. An area the size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared every hour to make way for new crops pushing many native species, such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos to the brink of extinction.
So what is it and why do we use it? Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit of the African Oil Palm tree popular with producers because it is capable of yielding more oil from less land than any other vegetable oil. Palm Oil crops are now abundant in Africa, Asia, North America, and South America with 85% of total production coming from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Is it an essential ingredient in these products? No! Many similar products don't use palm oil and as consumers we can choose to avoid this trade. Some producers have moved to sustainable agricultural practices which do not increase deforestation or threaten wildlife, this is known as Traceable Palm oil.
There is an environmental movement to require mandatory labelling of products that contain Palm Oil to better inform consumers of their choices. This would be similar to the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade labelling. Research has shown that eco-labelling has a significant impact on consumer choice. Visually it attracts the attention of the consumer providing them with a choice they may not have considered before, providing them with clear and simple information without having to read the small print or do the research. To achieve a label such as Palm Oil Free or Traceable Palm Oil the companies and farmers would have to provide evidence meeting certain standards and requirements.
Unfortunately mandatory labelling has not yet hit our shelves, but we can still make informed choices. Check out http://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/ for an extensive list of products that contain Untraceable Palm Oil and well as alternatives that contain Traceable or are Palm Oil free.