When I first became aware of the palm oil issue, I was pleased to see that the problems caused by the industry were regularly raised in the Guardian newspaper. But as with most things, there always comes a time when you have to take a step back and remember that you can’t believe everything you read in the press.
At the moment, fires rage in Indonesia, filling neighbouring countries with a polluting smog, destroying rainforests and killing birds and animals in their millions. I found it odd that this was the time the Guardian chose to run an article about palm oil plantations “powering communities and tackling climate change“.
But then I realised, the article was sponsored by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), as many of their articles on the subject are. Perhaps then this is the reason why they ran a positive story about palm oil plantations during the time of year when the same plantations cause so much destruction in Asia.
After a quick search of their website, I found this article on sustainable palm oil that included the point “consumers should not boycott palm oil”. This was again sponsored by the RSPO and it went on to explain that “replacing [palm oil] will have to use more land.”
This seems an odd claim, since there are now ethical companies producing everything from cosmetics to chocolate to deodorant to peanut butter without it. Are they destroying the rainforest? No.
Let’s take Meridian foods as an example. Nut butters are notorious for using palm oil, because it acts as an emulsifier to stop the product from separating. So Meridian produce nut butter from – well yes, nuts. Some of their products don’t contain anything else, others might contain something as innocent as a bit of sea salt.
And what of that emulsifier that is so hard to replace, what deforestation inducing methods are they turning to in order to replace it? Well they let consumers know that if it separates, they can sort it out by giving it a stir.
They’re not the only ones either, my list of palm oil free companies in the UK is here. It is by no means a complete list, but it’s a great starting point if you would like to manage without palm oil.
I’ve also made a pretty awesome moisturiser myself that doesn’t contain palm oil.
And aside from that argument, it’s not just deforestation that causes problems with palm oil plantations as anyone living in an area currently overcome with smog will tell you.
And what of the RSPO, don’t they guarantee that palm oil is deforestation free? Well according to Green Peace, no they don’t. The RSPO don’t prevent deforestation or the destruction of peat lands. RSPO palm oil producers still set fires, thereby contributing to the smog and the out of control deforestation caused by fire.
So do I agree with the advice that consumers shouldn’t boycott all palm oil? Of course not.
Palm oil is in so much that it’s really difficult to avoid it all together. But if we can all cut down on our consumption by switching to some of the amazing brands that don’t use it, we’ll be voting with our wallets in a much better way than if we just switch to RSPO certified palm oil.
And at the end of the day, on an issue like this our wallets usually carry the only vote we have.