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How you can help the production of palm oil become sustainable

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Iceland’s Christmas advert this year has caused quite a stir, highlighting the issue of rainforest destruction to make way for palm oil production. Many eco-conscious consumers have consequently committed to cut down on or avoid products containing palm oil.

The impact of the palm oil industry has been catastrophic for animal populations across south-east Asia, where 85% of palm oil is produced, and where millions of hectares of rainforest have been cleared to create plantations. These animals – particularly the orangutan and Sumatran tiger populations – have suffered severe habitat loss due to the slash and burn process used to clear lands, leaving these species critically endangered.

Deforestation in Indonesia

Deforestation in Indonesia //  Credit: globalwarmingisreal.com

Climate change and indigenous rights abuse, as well as long-term human health problems, are additional consequences of the industry.

What many people do not know is that palm oil is the most widely-used vegetable oil and is found in 50% of all supermarket products; bread, chocolate and an extensive list of puddings and desserts are noteworthy culprits.

Many Orangutans have had to flee their homes due to deforestation

Many Orangutans have had to flee their homes due to deforestation // Credit: Wild Politics

Many cosmetics, shampoos and cleaning products are also to blame. Astonishingly, production is only set to increase, putting the habitats of orangutans and other endangered animals even further at risk.

Iceland has therefore pledged to use no palm oil in its own brand food, until there is a guarantee that its production isn’t causing deforestation or the demise of animal species.

However, this is just a minuscule fraction of the food products out there - so how can consumers themselves cut down on or avoid palm oil products?

Know the palm oil pseudonyms

Certain manufacturers avoid directly listing palm oil and its derivatives in their ingredients and opt to use one its many pseudonyms instead. For example, ingredients with “palm” in their name, such as "Hydrated Palm Glycerides" and "Etyl palmitate", will either be palm oil or a derivative of the oil palm fruit. Also, keep an eye out for its taxonomic name "Elaeis guineensis".

Choose products containing clearly-labelled oils

Palm oil is sometimes disguised under “vegetable oil”, so make sure this vegetable oil is clearly specified as 100% sunflower, canola, olive, or whichever oil you opt for. If not specified, it is probably worth checking the product out online, or contacting the manufacturer.

Boycott the corporations that use unsustainable palm oil in their products.

The more people that avoid these big companies, the more they will lose out on, meaning that they will be obliged to change their ways, making it easier for the consumer to stick to products that are either free from palm oil, or contain palm oil from sustainable sources.

According to WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard, many UK companies are taking the reigns on sustainable palm oils, yet other big global companies such as Nestlé are still of concern.

 Extinction Rebellion Protests in London have named the destructive production of palm oil as one of the issues the government needs to address.

Do your research on individual products

It is simple to Google a product to determine whether it contains palm oil. However, there is a super handy app called Buycott which lets you scan the UPC barcode of a product to discover its exact ingredients and its sustainability – this doesn’t only apply to sustainability in terms of palm oil, but other factors too!

Alternatively, a simple way to know that a product contains palm oil from a sustainable source is to look for the 'Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil' (RSPO) logo. This certification ensures that the product complies with a certain environmental and social criterion, which minimises the negative effects of palm oil cultivation.

Read further on why the Iceland Christmas advert was banned from TV and why it will help 2018 go down as the year of 'corporate caring'.

Find out more about which everyday products contain palm oil here.

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