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

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

  1. Whilst a well articulated article, I feel there are quite a few flaws in your argument.

    Citing that agriculture is the main cause of deforestation, you failed to mention that the production of rice is the second leading cause of environmental problem – a food which would be a staple in many vegetarians diet.

    Palm oil isn’t actually good for our bodies so we should be trying to cut it out anyway and by giving out the attitude of “here is why I will never give it up” you are giving people the opportunity to stop caring when this is the first time that the issues with palm oil has ever had such global interest.

    The Sumatran rhino, elephant, tiger and orangutan are all on the critically endangered list because of palm oil deforestation. Maybe if we slowed down the amount of palm oil production then these animals would have a chance to survive and build the numbers back up.

    Finally. For a palm oil plantation to grow, the land needs to be burned. This is causing major respiratory problems for the people of Indonesia. A country that already doesn’t have access to great health care. And I don’t understand the difference in the fact you are happy to purchase leather and wool. The animals are caged the same way, raised the same way and the items the leather and wool are made into, are transported the same way

    1. I agree aside from the rice argument. Rice would be a staple in anyone’s diet, meat eater or vege alike. Animal agriculture is the problem here. That is fact.

      1. I also understand that most of the world’s rice is contaminated with arsenic, anyway! it’s scary

    2. Excellent comments you obviously know what you are talking about,keep going and please post to FB the more information shared the better😊😊😊😊

    3. Hi Cheryl. Firstly thank you for your comment and secondly apologies for the delay in responding. This post has received far more attention than I ever could have imagined and I have been inundated with comments and messages.

      In terms of your comment about rice production, I’d be keen to see some figures on this. I researched causes of deforestation heavily before writing this post and rice didn’t once come up as a leading cause so please send over some papers on this. 🙂

      It also saddens me that you think after reading the article that my attitude is “I will never give it up”, that was certainly not my message. I eat a whole food, plant based diet and use many home made natural beauty products so my palm oil consumption is limited. I will always advocate for less. Less consumerism, less processed food (by the way I completely agree with you on the health issues assoc with palm, I just didn’t think that message fit well in this post so thanks for raising this), less product usage overall.

      Using less palm oil overall is indeed one way in which we can slow down deforestation. I get that. It seems like the obvious choice. The problem with this approach is that farmers and producers will not simply accept the lack of demand and shut up shop. They will switch tactics. And this was one of the points I tried to convey in my article and why I believe we must work with producers and help them produce a product in a sustainable manner. Whether this be palm oil, soya, beef or any other commodity. When a commodity is produced in a sustainable manner, deforestation will begin to slow and (hopefully) eventually stop because the producer is able to supply the product using a limited piece of land or using methods where crop growing and habitat can coexist.

      Failing to appreciate that this precious land belongs to people who are looking to make a living (however big or small, I don’t think it wise to address the issues of poverty and politics here) will mean that as consumer demand for a particular commodity rises and falls so will the producers focus on that particular commodity and the issue of deforestation will continue to be ignored.

      I hope that makes sense! Let me know your thoughts, I don’t think I will be able to respond to every comment but yours seem to get a lot of likes so hopefully discussion will continue.

      Peace x

    4. The reason about the Iceland and Greenpeace ad is to let people know that the palm oil industry is directly responsible of the orangutan extinction. The orangutans live in the Indonesian Forrest because it is their only natural habitat. The more the Forrest is cut the less space is left for orangutans. There is very little Forrest left and that eventually will end up with the end of orangutan species. This article has been presented clearly in a commercial way talking about how important is the palm oil for the human so we can eat Nutella without feeling responsible of the damage we do, until we drop dead of an indigestion. The palm oil is a very versatile product used in different applications and it is so important because it is cheap. It is used in processed food and it is not even a healthy ingredient in the food.. Only once in the article the reason of all this dilemma has been named. “wildlife” and no further references to this “orangutan only habitat” has been made. the extinction of this animal is the ONLY reason why Greenpeace tries to stop this madness.This article is confusing people taking their attention and understanding of the real issue here which is the extinction of the orangutans from the Forrest of Indonesia. Another great example about how the human being is the only specie in the planet that doesn’t care about any other living beings sharing our world. Buy buy buy….

    5. Hi Cheryl, I am a little surprised at some of your points, and their fact based accuracy. In particular, you say for palm oil plantations to grow the land needs to be burned. This is simply not true. How many palm plantations have you lived on? I have lived on 3 different palm plantations in West Africa and visited several plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. I have witnessed the land being prepared for planting of new oil palms over the years, and not once (as in never) was the land burned first. I am not an agronomist, but to my knowledge from talking to these people, burning the land actually degrades it and robs it of much needed nutrients for the palms to grow.

      I know, we see the land being burned, mostly images coming from Indonesia. It is my understanding this is often smallholders, as in local people with some hectares under their control that are using burning as a means to clear the land.

      Also a point to note, the RSPO has just announced a new updated set of standards, and No Deforestation is allowed by their members. By any means, cutting or burning.

      Thanks,

      Kevin

  2. Even if its not the main culprit, palm oil production is still causing the deforestation and leaving lots of animals without homes and some being killed That is never a small drop in the ocean of problems our planet is facing. All of the issues need to be addressed the so called small and the large in your face issues like plastic in the oceans. And every little bit you do is a little bit better, you add you little bit to the other millions of people who do care and you have a revolution.

    1. This polemic misses out the horrible health consequences of palm oil. It is the most staurated of all vegetable oils and worse than lard. Also its a monoculture and is devastating to the environment and wildlife, and plant ecology. Its crept into Sri-Lanka and i fear for the survival of coconut plantations. The profits dont go to the masses but rich corrupt business lords and multi-nationals. I would like to have a list of the authors conflicts of interest. I have been boycotting palm oild well before this became fashionable.

      1. Hi there, thanks for your comment. No comflict of interest here. Despite many assumptions, I am not being paid for this work. I work in the Veterinary sector. This blog is my passtime as I am very passionate about matters of sustainability.

  3. The global community has unleashed irreversible damage through blind consumerism. The issue of palm oil has been on the radar for a decade but most have knowingly chosen to not research the impact further and kept using it in shampoo, biodiesel, fish and chips, spreads, confectionary, to glaze the cake mix and make it look shiny etc. But I try to avoid it, as the species loss and greenhouse gas emissions from carbon rich peat drainage and oxidation plus burning is catastrophic.

    Peat form carbon sinks that could last for millions of years have been allowed to oxidise and burn through drainage. 20% plus of the palm expansion is on these once waterlogged peat bogs. Tropical peat soils are found primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, and can range in thickness from half a meter to more than 20 meters deep. With the accumulation of so much organic material, tropical peat soils store up to 20 times more carbon than other types of mineral soils.
    Recently published research in the World Resource Institute, shows the area of industrial plantation expansion onto peatlands in Borneo, Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia increased 37 percent over just the past five years (235,000 hectares or 581,000 acres per year). In Kalimantan alone, the expansion more than doubled. Today, plantations cover 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) of tropical peatland in Indonesia and Malaysia, meaning that emissions from these drained areas total 263 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 per year—equivalent to emissions from 70 coal plants.
    HOW IS PEAT FORMED?
    Peat forms under wetland conditions, where flooding causes partially decayed vegetation or organic material to accumulate over time rather than decomposing. As this organic material builds up over thousands of years at a rate about the thickness of a quarter every year, it retains even more water and acts as a giant sponge that holds moisture. Eventually, a dome of wet organic material forms that can rise above the surrounding flood levels.
    Why Does Peat Drainage Lead to Emissions?
    Peatlands are not ideal for agriculture in their natural flooded state. Preparing them for planting first requires the land to be drained of water so the planted crop roots can access oxygen and thrive. But this process also allows microbes in the soil to eat away the organic matter and release CO2 in the process. As the organic matter decomposes, the peat subsides, requiring further drainage to avoid re-flooding. This continued cycle of peat subsidence and drainage creates a continuous source of CO2 emissions over time.
    Why Are Emissions from Peat Drainage Left Out of Global Emissions Inventories?
    There is still considerable uncertainty about the extent and depth of peat soils. The Food and Agriculture Organization provides estimates of peat drainage emissions, but they come from imprecise datasets that have not changed since 1990, despite there being 15 times more agriculture planted on peat in Indonesia and Malaysia today.
    https://www.wri.org/blog/2016/04/destruction-tropical-peatland-overlooked-source-emissions
    Restoring Peat and Planting on Degraded Land to Prevent Future Emissions
    The only way to prevent drained peat from emitting more carbon dioxide is to rewet the land. Doing so has the added benefit of preventing fires during the dry season, which themselves can be an additional catastrophic source of emissions and air pollution. After last year’s record-breaking fires season, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo set up an agency to restore about 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of peatland in four prioritized districts.

    Our shift to biofuel too- has decimated communities – and the Cameroon, Gabon, Congo etc are next in line. In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.

    The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.

    The fires are more severe than what we see in BC, Sweden or California. How did we compare emissions from Indonesia’s fires to US emissions?
    Van der Werf’s research team developed rough estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions arising from recent Indonesia fires using estimates from past years based on satellite data and fire emissions models. They calculated that the 96,937 fires in Indonesia detected to date this year emitted roughly 1,043 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (Mt CO2eq) cumulatively. Based on the modeled relationship of fire counts to emissions, it is possible to estimate daily emissions based on the number of fires occurring on a specific day.

    Using this information, it becomes apparent that on 26 of the past 44 days (up to October 14), daily estimated greenhouse gas emissions from fires in Indonesia surpassed average daily emissions from the entire US economy (approximately 15.95 Mt CO2 per day).

    So besides the species loss, and yes in spite of the Matto Grasso in Brazil being flattened for Soya to feed pigs and chickens – palm oil can and must be substituted to rapidly drop the demand and stop the big corporations from expanding further. This will further make citizens pressure Indos corrupt government etc to tighten conservation and ecorestoration, policing and Eco labelling verification to increase the price per unit of oil, and not decimate the last wild places for bribes.
    We can do this.

    1. I’m noticing that a lot of people in the comments seem to be missing the key point raised by the article. Palm oil deforestation is not a cause, it’s an effect. The cause is consumerism. Combating palm oil deforestation by boycotting palm oil products will not solve deforestation, it will make it worse. It’s been established that palm oil production is actually one of the most efficient oil producers. To quote from the article “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”. In this scenario, if you reduce demand for palm oil by boycotting products, the demand for less efficient oil producers goes up, leading to more deforestation as they require more space for the same output.

      1. I think the point in boycotting Palm Oil, is to force them to increase the “certified, environmentally and socially responsible palm oil that doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Otherwise people won’t buy it!! it’s to force their hand into action and show that they can’t keep getting away with it!

    1. Sorry you mention the Amazon rainforest is destroyed for cattle ranching! It isn’t! It’s being destroyed for illegal mining, mainly, and there are many groups and government agencies working to stop this. All destruction must stop or there will not be a good enough planet left to live on. So if palm oil is one of the bad things destroying the planet, it should be stopped as well, not over night I agree, but it should be the goal. And if ppl need jobs, then governments should step up on their creativity and provide sustainable jobs – it’s their responsibility. Just sayin’

  4. An interesting, well researched and informative article Lyndsey.
    I believe it was Newton who first quoted’to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’ as in this case.
    Whilst I applaud you for providing information which may not have been known it is a fact that the need of Palm oil does have a detrimental effect on the habitat of the orangutan, as portrayed in many a logo trying to make us stop using Palm oil.
    I believe we should not forget this even if it is not by the sole cause.

    Advertising is big business and the trend nowadays is sometimes to shock in order to grab your attention, but the ultimate aim is to sell a product.
    I have a small business and we could use Palm oil, but decided right from the start not to, for the reason of deforestation, and yes our notices do point out that we do not use Palm oil, and it does attract people to buy our products.

    Yes there is sustainably produced Palm oil, but I believe we must still keep up the fight to stop the unnecessary deforestation and if that requires minimising the use of Palm oil then I believe we must do so.

    There have been lots of posts on social media recently trying to shame trophy hunters, particularly when they show the pictures to the world.
    Poachers killing elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns to sell on the black market.
    Will we ever be able to stop it? Who knows but I believe we should consider that any action, that does have some effect is warranted, therefore if boycotting Palm oil has an effect the we should continue to encourage it.

    Having said all this, whilst I may not agree with everything you say, you are to be congratulated on researching and presenting the facts you posted.

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for your kind words and constructive criticism. I’m so happy this post has opened up a (mostly) fair, reasoned and intriguing discussion. I have to say I completely agree that reduction in usage can only be a good thing. My worry with a complete boycott is simply a matter of “out of the frying pan into the fire” if that makes sense!

      Lots to think about, even more to worry about, lets hope this conversation continues x

  5. This is an interesting article and a great example of why people shouldn’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon and boycott something without doing some research first! When I was working in Borneo with orangutans, the group I was with was advocating for sustainable palm oil, too. But as palm oil plantations are driving wild orangutans to the brink of extinction, I would caution people that ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. Besides pushing for sustainable palm oil, I think it’s crucial that we support organizations putting pressure on the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to start preserving the forests, not selling them off to big business. Another option is to give generously to groups buying tracts of forest which can be used to relocate some of the orangutans displaced by the plantations.

    1. Hi Amy, thank you for your comment. Completely agree, doing nothing is certainly not my message and it saddens me to think that that is what some people are taking from this!? I am however extremely happy that this article continues to create open, critical and intriguing discussion on this matter, lets hope it continues. x

  6. Interesting article, but i think it dilutes the point of the campaign, which is about the impact to orangutans. Orangutans only live in Indonesia and Malaysia where deforestation for palm oil plantations has been rife, and it is the main contributor to their loss of habitat. Comparing to forest clearing for cattle in Brazil, where numbers are so high, (although i agree, this is a much larger issue environmentally) makes the orangutan issue seem irrelevant. It’s not. See the deforestation on Borneo in the last 20 years. It’s all palm oil plantation. I’ve driven through it, it’s heartbreaking.
    While I totally agree with you on the wider issues, and on your points about consumer knowledge and responsibility, and the morality of big corporations, the point of this specific campaign is to raise awareness about the orangutan plight in Indonesia and Malaysia. Hopefully it will make consumers more aware of the choices that you’ve also highlighted, of buying goods with specific certifications from morally responsible corporations.

  7. So what is the incentive for Palm Oil companies to prove that they are sustainable, according to your article?
    None.
    This issue needs all the publicity it can get, there is no mention in your article of the terrific Haze (Air pollution) caused by the Palm Oil industry which blankets South East Asia in a regular basis. This affects the well being of many thousands of people.
    Yes Palm Oil has brilliant technical properties and could be fantastic, but until the industry is better regulated, it’s best avoided.

  8. Well said! Information is our only tool if we want to make a change. It starts with us, with our daily choices. Companies/industries adapt to the clients demands…
    Remember if you stop the palm oil something else will substitute and that does not mean that the same land necessities will minimize…nop!
    Social responsibility makes companies follow a social paradigm, wich may lead to big infrastructure/logistic changes in the same companies/producers, loss of capital to the producers and their economic power (who explores the land to produce)…this makes sense to me in the meat industry, not in the palm/soy industry as they aren’t the main culprits for deforestation…but, we all now the pressure of meat industries, don’t we? And so Iceland…

    1. It is quite remarkable just how dense most contributions here have been. Here’s a summary for the slow learners : don’t boycott palm oil products, stop buying processed food. Doh!

  9. Interesting read and some merit to what is said, but the advocation that people should not boycott and are ethically misguided is poorly constructed. If people boycott products that are not sustainable, whilst consuming less AND only buy certified palm oil, then it works. But also I would question as to whether this is really motivated by a desire to promote sustainability or get “clicks”, as many just read headlines. A misleading argument that is suggestive there is no point in a boycott and that Iceland and Greenpeace are wrong, and that this would merely “shift” production, is flawed. Does this mean people are going to boycott palm oil and choose unsustainable amazon beef as the alternative? If a boycott awakens companies to the need to act sustainably and change practices, whilst changing consumer mentalities, then great. I like that it wants to get people to do research and consume less, but the logic no one should boycott is counter-productive.

    Indeed there are public misconceptions about palm oil, however it advocates that there is no point in boycotting a product on the basis of “well, it isn’t going to stop it” and “peoples jobs depend upon it”. Well, if peoples jobs depend on unethical practices and an immoral industry, I do not feel that the logic of “propping it up” is a charitable aim. Yes, people should be considering the bigger picture, but at least the advert highlights awareness and triggers people to think ethically about their products. If companies are going to start a competition of “who is most sustainable”, even if on an arguably flawed basis, then great! Currently ethics, consumers and production is too rarely connected. Plus Greenpeace have to target a group and make campaigns that attract sympathy and exploit public interest where they can, one battle at a time. Its all too common that people decry others for hypocrisy when trying, even if arguably misguided, to think ethically. If we criticise Iceland for caving in to consumer demand for an ethical product, why would they bother chaining other practices? If they see that this type of advert and corporate message increases profits and works, then they will change other product lines accordingly.

    Apologies for the rant. Popped up on my newsfeed on FB and I study a masters in climate change, policy and sustainability. .

    1. Good points but like most of the commenters you seem unaware of the West African origins of the oil palm. A region with deforestation issues but no orangutang population. The palm oil boycotts punish those producers who have committed no crime.

  10. Excellent and interesting article. thank you. This is the one of the reasons I have stopped eating meat.

  11. People are sharing this article saying “This is why I’m doing nothing about my choice as a consumer”

    Which, I think is dangerous and very concerning to the future of our planet and for the future of our children.

    While I applaud you for writing an article which is making people talk about the issue and highlight issues, doing nothing or making people think it’s ok to shove anything and everything in their mouths or in the mouths of their children without spending a second on where it has come from or who has manufactured it is not something I believe we should endorse.

    Everyone has the right to lead life – choose how to live – eat what they like – but we aren’t giving these animals much choice to food or habitat right now are we?

    1. Good points but like most of the commenters you seem unaware of the West African origins of the oil palm. A region with deforestation issues but no orangutang population. The palm oil boycotts punish those producers who have committed no crime.

    2. Hi Aliina, thank you for your comment. It saddens me that some people are interpreting my message as “lets do nothing about palm oil” because that is certainly not where I was going with this post. I think for the average reader it is pretty clear that I am advocating consumer responsibility by encouraging people to research, ask questions, consume less and source responsibly. If people choose to use my article to bury their head in the sand then I think its safe to say that those people are not open to change YET. That being said, the amount of attention and conversation on this stream alone (I have seen many other similar conversations on social media) can only be a good thing whether you agree with the content or not. Lets hope it continues and we start to see some positive change in the near future. x

      1. I curiously chose to read the whole article because of this articles headline.
        I usually skim read headlines, intending to read things which I already agree with later. However, like many others, sometimes this doesn’t happen. Therefore I would like to thank everybody for their contributions to this discussion as I have learnt a great deal so far.
        Reversed psychology? …the h
        eadline definitely got my attention and probably many others here too.

  12. I think your blog interesting but detrimental to deforestation. I try very hard to not but products containing palm oil, and have done for a year. And after visiting Sumatra in October I was devastated to see the the miles and miles and miles of palm plantations! (I won’t go into the living conditions of their employees or the state of the roads caused by the massive lorries). And still the forest is being cleared. You see it flying over, or driving basically anywhere outside the towns! It is heartbreaking! We went to Ginung Leuser National Park and saw the beautiful wildlife and flora and fauna, what I thought all of Indonesia would look like, just breathtaking!
    Just because there are other forests being cut down and pollution and climate change don’t belittle the fact that the consumer can impact on what is going on in Malaysia and Indonesia.
    I will continue to boycott palm oil (even ‘sustainable ‘) because what I saw needs to be protected!

  13. Agree with a lot of what’s being said here in the comment stream, adding my POV from being a national of and living in south-east Asia. Diluting the alert to 15-20 years of massive deforestation here because of global market forces is not helpful here. It’s hard enough to get Asian populations to get off our palm oil fried snacks — why should scotchbread and hob nobs also be in demand for it? What happened to your own butter? That said, there are farms for palm oil on the African continent too. The biggest struggle in Asia for this topic is that of large scale agribusiness, where citizen opposition given the wealth gap may not have the same effects, so your Western voice to live through some discomfort of standing by the boycott would be more gracious than the bypass you’ve given to readers who would rather sit on their hands.

  14. Very informative and balanced. Once again, the public is being manipulated by an advertisement that is lacking in depth and appeals only to our emotions. My views on palm oil have been changed by this, and other, articles, though I will now only purchase items with ‘sustainable’ palm oil. Well written!

  15. The soybean industry has led a decades long misinformation campaign against palm oil and uses the sad and unforgivable plight of the orang-utang to stifle the palm oil market worldwide which includes West Africa , the original home of the oil palm before wholesale transplantation by the British.

    How many humans (indigenous tribespeople ) in Brazil lose their homes and lives to Soy bean farmers and no boycott seems even whispered about?

    1. The devastatting effects of soy and beef are two of the reasons there are 15% vegans and vegetarians in Britain now! We do talk about it. Lots.

      Sadly, there’s a lot of palm oil in processed products that vegans have been happily chomping, like Oreos.

      This is issue A. Please do not think we are not concerned with B-Z.

  16. Greenpeace has labeled this product ‘Dirty Palm Oil’ and has pointed out and continues to point out that palm oil does not have to be produced in a way that is so very detrimental to Orang Utans, the clImate, air quality, water supply and the earth itself. Surely, you must have seen the photographs: if not, I suggest you visit Greenpeace’s website and look at pictures of the unbelievable devastation that human greed has caused. As Greenpeace points out, it is possible to produce palm oil without such destruction – but without quite such huge profits, of course.
    There are other practices that cause problems, as you rightly observe but that shouldn’t stop us taking action on any of them. If we wait until we are in a position to tackle all the problems, at once so as demonstrate a lack of favouritism, there will be no planet left to save.
    I’m glad that you agree with Greenpeace’s suggestion that we should all buy fewer items that contain palm oil.
    I don’t think we are in a position to make assumptions about Iceland’s decisions. If it can be proved that it is selling products containing ‘dirty palm oil’ when it says it isn’t then it should be prosecuted.

  17. I think we should focus more on the industry that support regime that driving “human beings” out from their home first before caring for those four-legged friends…..

  18. But it’s about saving Oranutangs! Do you want this on your conscious? This is a similar argument posed by Piers Morgan to the CEO of Iceland on tv the other day. The campaign is not just about deforestation, its about saving the habitat of Orangutans! They ONLY live in the rainforests of Burma and Sumatra! There is nowhere for them to run to. If we carry on creating a demand for palm oil there will be NO orangutangs left in the wild. Yes, this is not the only problem with deforestation, but it’s one that is most urgent right now. If the general trend towards being vegan continues, deforestation in other rainforests will become less. After all the Iceland commercial was originally made by Greenpeace, and I think they know what they are talking about.

  19. Your well written blog saddens me so much. 😢
    I admire this company for making a stand … for making consumers, and possibly more importantly, their children see what our consumerism is doing to our world.
    The point Iceland has made, in however small a way, is that they are taking a stand NOW! Not later when it will be too late, not sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it for them.
    They are trying to do something to change our attitudes to farming and agriculture. … trying to make people see THE INCREDIBLE DESTRUCTIVE IMPACT we are having on our beautiful planet through greed. The human race has become complacent, has lost the ability to care and love.
    Yes it”s a small step … but if other companies follow suit and do their little bit maybe it will make a big difference.
    Lots of small things sticking together become BIG and strong …. don’t try and stop those that care about this amazing planet, and ALL that share it, from trying to make a difference . Too many people are prepared to ignore it, to justify what is going on, to leave the fighting to others because it’s too far away, and “what could we do about it anyway”.
    Don’t leave it to Governments and the rich man because MONEY is their only ambition … look past their blinding smiles and empty promises and do something yourselves.
    PLEASE KEEP CARING PEOPLE …. THROUGH UNITY AND SMALL CHANGES WE CAN SURELY CHANGE THINGS. WE CAN MAKE IT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD AGAIN …. FOREVER. 😊

  20. As a none eating palm oil, soya and meat person, I do think that the Iceland advert not just shows Palm oil as ONE of the causes of deforestation but shows that it is happening and this is a major problem, it opens up information for people to look into it themselves who care. Whether it’s Palm, or Soya or agricultural, its happening and NOW more people are aware Maybe Iceland shops are getting a unwarranted pat on the back, but maybe now they would have more pressure on them to be aware of where their chickens are from, etc. I take it as anything is better than us all being blind to it. This is the age of easy research so we can be educated. It;s up to us all to the make a difference.

  21. The issue is not just about palm oil. One of the issues for the outrage about the ban was that it was in effect an offence against free speech. So the ad was made by Greenpeace? This is an environmental organisation. Iceland, like any large food retailer is in it for the money but they have shown an interest in environmental affairs, taking a pledge for example, to go plastic-free in its own brand products. Ultimately we all need to eat less meat and consume less in general but at least Iceland is taking some steps in the right direction.

  22. Why the Iceland advert matters is that we are witnessing that businesses are waking up to the new reality that ethical purchasing will be part of consumer choice, even at Christmas – the one time of year when sustainability, the ennvironment or ethics are rarely on consumers’ minds. Instead of cuddly toys, we have cartoons amplifying the loss of orangutans. This might be some progress.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and I feel that with well informed, balanced insight, business and consumers can make greater progress in the future towards genuine ethical goals that are good for the world as well as for business. Your article shares sincere knowledge to help us on that journey.

    Knowledge doesn’t change the world in itself. Redefining human interests in terms of doing the right thing, in order to drive consumers towards ethical goals – well this is a long and hard battle. You may feel this advert subverts the real ethics, I see this as an opportunity to begin, and that we know there is a growing audience.

    If the Iceland article had never happened, neither would this conversation. What we miss is real information and rather than attributing this to potential cynical businesses, let’s develop stronger networks for real insight. What happens if we go back to Iceland with suggestions? What do you think their reaction would be? Woudn’t that be interesting? We should keep business accountable and this will be part of their journey also.

  23. Every major retailer will publish its palm oil policy on their website. A simple Google search will locate that. Most of the big UK supermarket retailers have only sold sustainable palm oil in all their own brand products – most since 2014. Iceland has caught up just now and their policy on timber deforestation is woeful. Perhaps a ban on Iceland is more appropriate so they catch up with the bigger supermarkets who know issues like can create a competitive advantage over each other. The bigger supermarkets’ palm oil is certified by RSPO who only last week had an annual conference where commitments on deforestation were tightened further. Worth noting in the wake of this controversy Greenpeace UK was moved to clarify, on its own Twitter account, that it is not anti palm oil. But you won’t read that as it doesn’t fit the media narrative at the minute. As ever read, read, read on subjects. The media – and savvy PR agencies – will play to the crowd and say what makes us more likely to buy their products/service.

    1. I would have expected the other big supermarkets to make a much bigger deal of their palm oil sustainability. Why don’t they shout about it? Competition would soon get the better of them and standards for palm oil sustainability would surely be forced up.

  24. Waking up the conscience of the consumer is always a good thing, making people think about what they are buying is a good thing. The Iceland Ad does that, and it is emotive because people are really good at ignoring facts (think climate change) but an image of an orangutan stays longer.

    Palm oil is an issue because rather than replant existing cleared land the palm oil producers move onto the next bit of forest, clear it and pant again, the difference between unsustainable and sustainable palm oil.

    And the RSPO has failed to meet its soft targets, has recently suspended Nestle while ignoring members of its own board who have breached its own code of conduct. Greenpeace raised several cases of RSPO members destroying rainforest with the RSPO in the past year, including deforestation by members of the RSPO’s board of governors and its complaints panel. Not an organisation to be trusted where sustainable palm oil is concerned.

  25. Whether it is palm oil, rice or cattle is not the problem. We humans are the problem. we are selfish, lazy and arrogant. For years we have taken it for granted that we are entitled to take whatever and not think of the consequences of our actions to the animals, land and environment. Now we are playing catch up which in some cases is too late for many animals and people. No matter whether you are a meat eater, vegan or vegetarian we can all make changes in our life styles which would not only benefit the rest of the world, animals but ourselves also.

  26. I agree with you that deforestation due to palm oil production is not the largest percentage. However, I do fail to see what relevance that has to the orangutan?

    The Iceland advert is clearly saying it’s opposed to palm oil trade due to the declining orangutan numbers.

    Animal agriculture is, as you say, the main reason for deforestation in Latin American and that is a problem that should also be addressed, yet has no bearing on the palm oil trade killing orangutans in Indonesia.

    Theres a lot of contributors to deforestation worldwide and the amount of rainforest being destroyed in Latin America, as you say, is appalling! This doesn’t mean however we should stop caring about an animal that could go extinct due to something that “isn’t the main cause of deforestation”

  27. There’s an awful lot raised here. It’s good to see an alternative argument to the usual ban all palm oil one. I live in amongst the plantations. I see palm oil palms every day. I can see them from where I am currently sat. What this means to me is that if you completely remove the need for palm oil production then this land that is used by an agriculture that supports a great number of people’s living could disappear. If this is the case then you have to give them something else to do. In a perfect world the rain forest will get replanted and we all live happily ever after. This is not going to happen. People are making money from this land and to return it to earning nothing will not be an option for them. Add to that the fact that the global population is growing and you add additional pressure to this point.

    In the statement ‘we need to stop the demand for palm oil’ I believe there are 2 important words missing. Growth in. We need to stop the growth in demand for palm oil. It seems that it is an efficient source of edible oil and being plant based it surely has some impact on CO2 levels although it seems that if it is used in biofuels this may be counter productive. The land has been cleared already. It’s not going to get replanted any time soon unless people get paid to do it, so let’s stop further clearing.

    The key point for me, and a big part of me moving back to Asia, was my concern that living in Europe it is too easy to opt for convenience foods. Pre-packed, pre-cooked preservative laden, nutritionally lacking offerings of the supermarkets. The choice to move to the local grocer and butcher etc is a difficult one with a big financial commitment to it as well. The town market is a dying breed now in the U.K. It’s a place where I used to buy a lot of produce. It was cheaper than the supermarket and was always fresh and never pre packed apart from their transport boxes. If people return to using local, seasonal produce a change will be seen. Your own communities will be strengthened and financially stronger. Your families will probably be healthier. I know everyone wants a mango every once in a while or whatever other exotic fruit you can’t grow in your region but to want it all the time is unsustainable.

    Articles like these, and the comments that follow, all help us to make informed decisions. Not everyone will make the same decision but that is human nature. What happens in the Western world may not have a massive impact on what is going on here in the East but it’s a start. The population here is growing at an alarming rate and their education is not the same as the West nor are their pockets as deep. They will continue to use palm oil for a good amount of time yet but let’s try and halt the growth in this industry.

  28. Agree Palm oil is not the only environmental problem. However I’d like to point out a few flaws in your arguments.
    My children and I were aware of the issue and trying to boycott it before the Iceland advert. However, we found the advert really moving and this makes it more powerful. It doesn’t just induce fear but it gives the answer- boycott palm oil. I.E it’s a fantastic campaign and no wonder industry has spent millions getting it banned.
    We find that boycotting Palm ol has been a simple short cut to consuming less and consuming more locally. Both actions you suggest are positive steps. I agree and I’m saying boycotting Palm is one that goes hand in hand with them.
    An additional benefit is that Palm seems to be the staple ingredient in junk food which the food industry has invested heavily in making addictive. The world is in the midst of an obesity epedemic with one in five kids leaving school with the disease (as recently classified by the WHO).of obesity. If caring about the orangutans helps my kids and others eat less junk well this is good for their physical as well as spiritual health.
    My daughter has taken up writing to food industry giants asking them to reconsider their use of palm oil. No replies yet. It says it all. Surely, to Mother Nature we can agree that the idea of sustainable palm oil is BS? Deforestation is deforestation is deforestation whether it was recent or less recent.

  29. Most comments are missing the point here, which is: by boycotting palm oil, you are boycotting the most effective and least damaging method of getting palm oil, and therefore boycotting this method will just result in other movements more damaging.
    The only option is to stop using oil, but in reality, we are humans and this is not really a realistic option at this stage.

    No matter what we do, there will be spin-off effects on the environment.

    The problem is that the world is overpopulated and the majority of the world is dirt poor. Want to save the animals and the forests and the ozone layer? Stop having children.

    As vegans, vegetarians or just someone who loves the earth, it is pointless to follow specific diets and drive electric cars if you go ahead and bring 2/3/4 children (consumers) into the world.

    Adopt. There are millions of orphans and kids in need of opportunities in life. If we all looked after them instead of reproducing – it would make a FAR bigger impact on the environment and socio-economic issues than any diet or boycott you could ever choose to take part in.

  30. This is being over complicated. The food industry is warped because the multinationals and mega companies are run by greed. This blogger has complete missed the point. People need to consume what is available to them locally to redress the issue of biodiversity loss. It is totally unnatural that people in the UK consume palm oil. Eat what is grown locally. Eventually the balance will come back. But that means we don’t have cheap oil in the UK? Ahhh maybe someone should approach highly subsidised farmers throughout the UK who use vast swathes of farm land for pheasant shoots. If they actually did some work and grew sunflowers maybe we could consume our own home grown oil???? Its not about consume less. It’s about recreating the natural balance which has been drastically upset by greedy corporations. Try and buy locally made produce for one week. In the UK it is virtually impossible. Why????

  31. Emotions are very powerful, and Iceland’s campaign focusses on those emotions. Even if the correct solution is RSPO rather than excluding palm oil entirely, I still find the campaign to be valuable. Speaking of not being misled by emotions – buying local very rarely results in any carbon savings. Transport is responsible for a tiny proportion of total product carbon emissions. ‘Buy local’ gives you a feel-good factor but that’s about it

  32. Hi -really love the passion and the arguments being discussed here, and the way in which we all want to fix the world. But, cant help think that we are doing this in the comfort of a 1st world country with our NHS and DWP Support. We can talk about poverty in the UK but believe me it is absolutely nothing compared to poverty in these areas. Having been there, and places very similar (not as a tourist) these people don’t see a Jungle, an environment, a habitat. They see the next meal for their children. I am sorry to say that those on poverty line simply don’t care about next year – They care about tomorrow and the next meal. Please understand, I support a better sustainable world, its a great place and its the only one we have now, but if these “boycotts” took hold then there would be immediate consequences before the world recovered. Economies would drop opening up gaps that would be filled by organised crime and potential terrorism – it has happened many times before.

    Mechanisms need to be put in place and behaviors need to change. There is no quick fix. Just having a world wide ban on something is the fastest way to shift a power base in a 3rd world country.

    By all means, please keep on having an opinion and trying to make the world better, but if we think of the consequences of the way in which we are trying to do, mentally mitigate those consequences and find solutions before taking action then opinion becomes less divided, we all become closer to the same answer and things will done as we all pull together.

  33. can you please provide links to your facts / percentages such as “only 6% of all soy beans produced globally end up being sold directly for human consumption” would be very useful as what you say I do like to preach (but still don’t buy anything with palm oil in…)

  34. Many people are somewhat missing the point.
    Orangutan
    STATUS; Critically Endangered
    POPULATION; about 104,700 (Bornean), 13,846 (Sumatran), 800 (Tapanuli)
    Iceland publicity has raised the issue again and I agree it is complex and para-political, but can we do something about this or is it a lost cause?

  35. Unfortunately many people will read that headline and not read the article or the comments that follow. This ignorance will sustain the consumption and production of more palm oil. Ultimately it’s about greed; our own as consumers, businesses, global corporations and governments. If people bought ethical and sustainable products the animal kingdom and the environment would be in a better place. Unfortunately this might mean it costs more. Whilst everyone pontificates and procrastinates and blames one another, however, orang utans are dying and purely because of mass palm oil consumption and this is what the Iceland advert is highlighting. Perhaps the heading to this blog should be ‘Why I’ll be buying ethically and sustainably sourced palm oil this Christmas and forever’, but this probably wouldn’t spread as fast or create as many shares or likes for the bloggers as the majority of people avoid environmental issues and that’s what’s got us into this mess. Ignorance is not bliss. 🤯

  36. I am heartbroken witnessing the destruction of our planet, and the beautiful things that are trying to live in it. Humans are the only beings who breed uncontrollably. No other species create, and keep their offspring so long. There needs to be some kind of stop on this over population? Humans are part of the deal, not, as many seem to think, THE deal. The world can’t cope. There needs to be more done in the long term to educate those who seem to take no responsibility for the babies they churn out over and over.
    As for palm oil. I won’t buy anything with it in, till I know more.
    Why can the Indonesian government use the surviving forests as a tourist venture? They will make money doing that, and save the forests too.

  37. You fail to address the issue at a regional or localised context. The beef industry is a leading cause of deforestation, but go to Sumatra or Borneo – there ain’t no cattle ranches, only miles amd miles of palm oil plantations…(which have all the adverse consequences to ecology and biodiversity, and global climate change).
    Icelands advert may be an attempt to lure in a new demography of customers, but at least they are trying to spread the good word…

  38. This reads like the argument that more guns is the answer to gun crime.

    Just say it. You like palm oil and you don’t want to stop using it. We’d respect you more for your honesty rather than your nonsense arguments you’ve made to make yourself feel better.

    1. Hi Chris, I would normally thank people for their comment but in this instance your comment is not only offensive but also unhelpful.

      If you’d read the article until the end then you would understand that my message is to consume less. Whether those products contain palm oil or not. Consumer responsibility is how things will change.

      As for my personal opinion and use of palm oil, I can safely say it’s minimal. I certainly don’t eat it (sustainable or not) and I use diy beauty care products where possible.

      I’d love to hear more about how much palm oil could be found in your kitchen and bathroom?

  39. Brilliant article. I think a lot of people kind of missed your pointbut, well done! I’m told that Einstein once said – of negative people, “They have a problem for every solution!”
    My question is simple… How do I find out who is using ethically sourced palm oil? Would .make it easier to avoid the bad guys.

    1. Hi Rick! Thanks so much for your kind words, I think some people have missed my point but maybe that’s partly my fault too! I’m just happy I have been able to be part of the on going conversation.

      In terms of sourcing truly sustainable palm oil it can be tricky as some have pointed out. A good place to start would be here http://palmoilscorecard.panda.org

      If we continue to support and encourage the idea of sustainable palm oil then this will become easier. Hope this was helpful, thanks again for your involvement x

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