Why I’m not boycotting palm oil this Christmas or ever.

It’s been awhile!  I’m a bad blogger.  But today I have felt inspired to share so here I am again.  It’s a long one so grab a brew and settle in…

So we’ve all seen the Iceland advert, if you haven’t well done for avoiding social media for the past week! The highly emotive cartoon features a baby Orang-utan whose rainforest home is being destroyed by human activity in order to produce palm oil.   The cartoon was actually produced by Greenpeace, which is the main reason why the Advertising Standards Agency decided to prevent the ad from being shown on TV. The advert dramatically highlights the devastating consequences the palm oil industry is having on wildlife habitats in Indonesia.  Because of this industry a shocking 270,000 hectares of rainforest is cleared annually to support the growing demand for this versatile commodity.

Facts tell stories sell…

Whilst I think we can all agree that this advert does an excellent job of drawing the publics attention to the problems with palm oil production, I’m going to attempt to assimilate a response that proves that not only is Iceland’s pledge to remove palm oil from all its own brand products a very tiny drop in a very large ocean, it’s actually extremely counter intuitive. The advert is highly emotive but hugely lacking in actual facts and information.   This leaves the viewer feeling upset and outraged but more importantly dangerously misinformed.

Before I explain why, I think its only fair to highlight the other issues that this advert fails to address. We simply cannot talk about deforestation in a meaningful and productive manner without doing so. The real problem here is not palm oil itself (palm oil is actually a very efficient and productive crop but more on this later), but the deforestation that is occurring in order to keep up with consumer demand. Palm oil is not the only commodity responsible for deforestation and it is certainly not the biggest contributor. Not by the long shot. There are only 4 commodities responsible for 99% of continued global deforestation and these are Animal Agriculture (namely cattle ranching), Soybean, Palm Oil and Timber.

Taking the lead in the Deforestation Olympics is by far the animal agriculture industry. In Latin America alone, 2.71 million hectares of tropical forest is cleared each year to make way ranching land for cattle. This is 5 times more than any other commodity in the region.

Unfortunately, cattle ranching land is only half the problem. The western worlds insatiable appetite for cheap meat means that a further 480,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared annually to make way for soy bean plantations. And before we go ahead and blame the vegans for their tofu addiction, only 6% of all soy beans produced globally end up being sold directly for human consumption, 75% will end up as feed for the animal agriculture industry (most soy imported to the UK is fed to chickens and pigs) and the rest as biofuel.

Deforestation for the production of timber products is much more complex, mostly because its difficult to get real figures on actual deforestation versus forest degradation but also because on the whole if done correctly, timber is a renewable commodity. If you want a rough figure, experts say timber production accounts for around 10% of deforestation globally.

So yes, palm oil IS a driver for deforestation but it’s certainly not the main driver, so why would Iceland (and Greenpeace) focus its attention on this commodity and overlook the worst offenders? Let’s just stick a pin in that for a little while…

So why can’t we boycott?

I think it was Kylie Minogue (or was it Sonja?) who put it best. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t! Ok I’m over simplifying massively here. The truth is boycotting palm oil would merely shift, rather than counter losses to our rainforests caused by palm oil production.

As I said earlier, palm oil plants are extremely efficient at producing oil. Compared to other oil producing plants such as rapeseed or soybeans, palm oil plants yield 4 to 10 times more oil per unit of land AND require far less pesticide and fertiliser. So if we pressure large companies to ditch the palm oil what will they use instead? Soy? As previously mentioned, soy is already a huge contributor to deforestation, a move away from palm to this more land hungry crop would be like cutting off Mother Earth’s nose to spite her lovely green face!

We have to be sensible here. The global demand for palm oil is not going to go away and I hope now you see why you shouldn’t necessarily want it to either. So what’s the answer? Luckily there are a few.

Consume Less

My favourite! This is literally the only real answer if you want to help stop deforestation. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. In general, the more processed your food is, the more likely it is to contain palm oil. Buy fresh whole food. And while you’re at it buy local. In terms of cosmetics, use what you have and get rid of your duplicates. Do you need 4 different moisturiser’s and 3 different shampoos? Didn’t think so.

Sustainable palm oil

Like I said, palm oil production isn’t going to disappear (certainly not overnight). Not only is this crop highly productive, we have to remember that the palm oil industry provides jobs and security for many families who may otherwise struggle to support themselves. By demanding that the palm oil in our products is certified we can ensure that palm oil is sourced in a sustainable and ethical manner.

Palm oil certification is spearheaded by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), who are leading the industry toward environmentally and socially responsible palm oil that doesn’t contribute to deforestation.

Currently only 20% of all palm oil produced is certified. There is very little incentive for producers to adjust their practices and seek certification whilst the discussion remains centred around boycotting the entire industry rather than supporting the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

There are already many large food and cosmetics brands that are investing in RSPO certified palm oil but fail to promote this practice, I suspect that this is because of the persistent negativity surrounding the use of any form of palm oil.

So what WAS the motive behind the Iceland campaign?

Was it to promote themselves as an eco conscious brand leader? Unfortunately the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I fear that Iceland are using our heart-strings in order to position themselves as an innovator in matters of environmental sustainability and ethics when the reality is they are far from it.  A quick browse on their online shop will showcase frozen chicken sourced from Thailand and Ribeye steak from Brazil!  Not to mention the fact they are still working with brands who use unsustainable palm oil in their products.

So my message here?  Don’t let your emotions guide you when it comes to complex matters such as the environment and climate change.  Do your research.  Read labels. Buy less.  Buy local.  And support brands that care.

If you do want more info on deforestation this is a useful website.

If you want some more info on climate change then look here.

If you made it to here than Thank You for reading.  If you found this at all helpful I would really appreciate a comment or even a share.

Peace x

249 thoughts on “Why I’m not boycotting palm oil this Christmas or ever.

  1. I love reasoned thought out comment , your response to the masses screaming for banning palm oil is excellent, lets hope it gets given as wide an audience as the iceland advert, have posted to facebook if thats ok xx

  2. interesting post with a the standout message for everyone: “Don’t let your emotions guide you when it comes to complex matters such as the environment and climate change. Do your research.”

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