Bluebells in a British Woodland. Would you consider cutting out palm oil if it was British countryside being destroyed for palm oil plantations?

#RedApe versus palm oil: What if…

Did you watch BBC2’s Red Ape documentary? If not, I’ll fill you in quickly. Orangutan in Borneo are facing extinction. The dedicated team featured in the documentary are fighting with every ounce of their being to save them. But it’s not enough, because they’re fighting against us. All of us.


Palm Oil: The real battle

It is a sad fact that what these incredible people in Borneo are doing will never save the Orangutan. They might save one, a hundred or a thousand. And they will undoubtedly keep fighting until the last one breathes its final breath. But unless we, in Western society, change our ways, that day will almost certainly come.

When I first started writing about the devastation caused by palm oil, everybody’s answer was the same. “I use things that contain sustainable palm oil.” But the problem is, there’s really no such thing. The Rountable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded by, and continues to be run by, people who profit from the palm oil industry. We want to believe that their palm oil is truly sustainable. That no orangutan died to make our food, cosmetics or washing products. That is simply not the case.

The RSPO is effectively a front to make us back off and leave palm oil alone. RSPO certified companies are still destroying the rainforest, wiping out orangutan habitat and displacing people who lived in the area long before we decided we couldn’t live without palm oil. They are still starting fires that cause illness and death in vulnerable people whose lives are blighted by the annual smog. The only thing that has changed is those of us using RSPO certified palm oil feel a bit better about ourselves.

The reality

Thankfully, we are slowly starting to cotton on to the reality of palm oil production. It is not ethical, sustainable or necessary. Did you see the news recently about Iceland Foods removing palm oil from all of their own brand products? This Twitter video explains why.


It comes as a breath of fresh air to see that at last, a big corporation is taking the issue seriously. Iceland are not perfect. They will continue to stock products containing palm oil. But they at least understand that saying that the palm oil is RSPO certified is not enough.

Small changes

I don’t think that in this day and age it is reasonable to ask people to totally boycott palm oil. This might shock you, given that I have set up a not-for-profit website to assist people to shop palm oil free. But what we can all do is to make small changes. Read the label occasionally or switch from Nutella to Sweet Freedom chocolate spread. Cook from scratch once a week to avoid a sauce in a jar containing palm oil.  Switch from peanut butter containing palm oil to Meridian nut butter or even the Morrison’s own brand palm oil free spread. Or, when Iceland remove palm oil from their own brand products, shop there occasionally. Buy the own brand offering. Because if we all changed one thing, think of the difference it would make.

What if…

What if we don’t make those changes? What if the world’s CEO’s don’t face facts and start taking action? What if, by the time your grandchildren are at school, they learn about Orangutans in a history lesson?

What if all the jungles are replaced with palm oil plantations? Did you know that despite covering only two per cent of the earth’s surface, they contain 50% of our biodiversity? That’s a lot of species to lose, irreplaceably. Because it’s not just about the Orangutan.

And bringing it all a little closer to home, what if it was your back yard? What if they ran out of space for palm oil in Borneo and Indonesia, and the British countryside was next? Then would you consider making small changes to fight for the beautiful world we live in? I would.

Bluebells in a British Woodland. Would you consider cutting out palm oil if it was British countryside being destroyed for palm oil plantations?

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  1. This is really thought provoking, thanks. I’m the first to admit I haven’t looked into this anywhere near enough, but I’m going to be much more aware now. And let’s hold more retailers follow Iceland’s lead!

  2. Hi Nat, I’ve just been reading about the harm sea pollution is doing to stags in Scotland, and it makes me sad. You’re right if we all did a little something that adds up to a whole lot of something and that can make a difference… Companies stating that no Orangutans died to make this food, is totally not correct. If their habitat is destroyed then, of course, they will die, maybe not at that time, but in time… We’ve only got to take a look at the world to see what damage us humans have done. Plastics, palm oil, ridiculously high carbon footprints, basically anything for an easier life or to make fat cats, fatter… I am by no means a religious person, but this world is a gift and all we have done is abuse it.


  3. It really annoys me when companies use palm oil yet claim to be ethical. Finding my vegetarian sausages. (Looking at you Linda McCartney) or my meat free quorn peppered steaks are using palm oil is not ironic, it’s disgusting.
    I make my own biscuits as almost all shop bought contain palm oil too.
    I think my list of ‘suitable ‘ foods at the supermarket is now smaller than the ‘unsuitable’ thanks to palm oil, plastics and my ethics.

    1. Yes it’s so difficult isn’t it? I tend to find that shopping online works best for me because it remembers what I bought last time so I don’t have to read labels every time.

    2. Oh I feel your pain, so difficult to find companies that are truly ethical. I also have a problem with single use plastics. So difficult to avoid everything unethical. I often make my own biscuits too, although shortbread is generally palm oil free.