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

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

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. I do have a science background, I’m a Veterinary surgeon. I have spent some time doing conservation projects although not in SE Asia. I’m also from a farming family so have a good understanding of this industry too.

      I have always had an interest in conservation and the environment but have kept it mainly as a hobby, maybe this will change in the future as I do feel a real pull to this work and helping create positive change.

      Hope this helps?

      1. All this may be true Lyndsey but what about the fact that we are losing too many Oranguatans. What will we say when they are all gone? I am heart broken by the thought so I try to avoid palm oil products. People can find different ways to survive they can’t.

      2. Totally agree with you Jennifer, my point is not to just try and avoid palm oil but try and avoid all processed food, reduce consumption and shop local. That way we will reduce palm oil usage AND prevent companies from switching out palm oil for other oils therefore moving the problem elsewhere to other species. We have already wiped out 60% of species due to our consumption, why do people only care about Orangutans? My message here is yes care about Orangutans, but also think about the countless other species that are being affected too. Xx

      1. Please copy and paste the quote that proves your statement that most soya is brought into the UK to feed chickens and pigs. This publication does not specify the UK.

      2. Hi lyndsey, generally speaking soya is not grow for animal agriculture. Animals mostly consume soya bean meal which is a by-product of the oil extraction. All of the value in soya is in the oil which is used heavily in human food , for cooking (as straight oil or in margarine) and in industry in things like paint. If it wasn’t for the oil no one would grow it. Agriculture simply provides an outlet and second income stream from what’s left, which is predominantly protein and some fibre. So really, very similar to palm oil…….

    1. That may be so for UK production but Brazil is a major global producer of soya and cattle and biofuel, with consequent damage to the Amazon rainforest … and restrictions on rainforest protection about to be relaxed under the new president of Brazil.

      Good blog article Lyndsey

  1. If Palm oil is only part of the problem then you should be boycotting all the problems not none. You are part of the problem otherwise

    1. What an aggressively foolish statement! Clearly the author cares enough to research and write this article, and it’s pushing, had you read, for a better solution because as she states, boycotting in this case is likely to make it worse. What’s wrong with you? Self righteous ignorance is the problem here as I see it

      1. It’s not an aggressively foolish statement as Che suggested to boycott all the items attributed to deforestation as opposed to the author’s suggestion of no boycott. Yes, boycotting palm oil and shifting to other, potentially more damaging, substances is a bad move but so to is inaction.

        Making informed choices, consuming less as the article suggests, and making the most ethical choice withing your power (which will vary greatly from person to person, ethical choices are sometimes prohibitively expensive but that’s another subject all together) is the simplest thing to do. The author’s implied message of simply making no change is clearly also foolish (also not the message of the article but sadly many read the headline and react).

        It would have been good to see the take on sustainable palm oil be more prominent here, and it’s right to say that palm oil, itself as a foodstuff, is not the problem rather deforestation. We have no issue buying foods where we know the palm oil is sustainable. Education and research and being informed is the key to this all, as this article rightly sets out.

    2. There is a while infrastructure based around its production and what Lyndsey is saying is that the oil itself is not bad – boycotting isn’t the answer as many families in those areas depend on jobs to make a living – take it away and you just create new problems……..

    3. He does, actually… consume less, buy local, eat natural. That’s the message I walk away with. Verh good blog, thank you Lindsey.

  2. I think the 1st move to save the planet is to find a cure for the Human virus and reduce its multiplication and wide fire spread. In general it’s a selfish greedy virus that has taken hold of its host Mother Earth and is bent on destruction.

  3. If everyone studied spiritual awareness Our spiritual evolution that is ..Most problems , if not all will go away ..I can tell you how ..But that is simply for the individual to learn about …When the small voice within guides you to a better understanding of why we are here on this , our Planet , our only home ..and the many ways needed to protect it ..And not exploit it ..

  4. This is a good article and addresses some key problems but I think you are quite a bit off the mark in your praise of Palm Oil.

    “Palm oil is not the only commodity responsible for deforestation”….
    – This is like saying Coal is not the only cause of CO2 emissions….should we say coal burning is Ok?
    “There are only 4 commodities responsible for 99% of continued global deforestation and these are Agriculture (namely cattle ranching), Soybean, Palm Oil and Timber.”
    – This “may” be true, I don’t know. While I agree with the Animal (meat production in a larger scale than only cattle), Palm Oil and Timber….Soya Bean is one of the biggest alternative sources of protein to beef…so we need to manage that better. If we deal with the animal farming and human meat consumption obsession then 75% of the Soya Bean problem disappears….and the other 25% are beneficial human consumption and bio-fuel….so don’t blame Soya Beans for deforestation, blame humans.

    Healthy Palm Oil does exist if it is organic, virgin and cold-pressed. BUT the cheap, refined, unhealthy Palm Oil from the palmseed/kernel which is found in processed foods is a leading cause of obesity and related health issues. Rapeseed and Soya Oil are not, they are actually healthy.

    “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.”….I totally agree, but you should be more concerned about the planet, the orangutans etc and human health than you are about Palm Oil. Do your research. 

    Consume less,!! Reduce your footprint, and re-use things, that is much better and more efficient than recycling.

    1. Where in the article did I praise palm oil? I am not pro palm oil. I am pro sustainability. The point of my post was to highlight the fact that a boycott would not necessarily solve out issues with deforestation in SE Asia or anywhere else.

      Human health wasn’t mentioned in this article because it’s not relevant to the topic of deforestation and climate change. The fact that you think I’m not concerned about the planet is ludicrous, look me up on social media, have a conversation with or read some of other posts. Or maybe just read this post again as you’ve clearly completely missed my point.

      1. Palm oil is also produced in Thailand, the price for it has reached rock bottom now farmers are looking to the govermant to subsidise the stuff where is the point in planting more the same goes for rubber.

    2. Just so you know Bert, generally speaking soya is not grow for animal agriculture. Animals mostly consume soya bean meal which is a by-product of the oil extraction. All of the value in soya is in the oil which is used heavily in human food , for cooking (as straight oil or in margarine) and in industry in things like paint. If it wasn’t for the oil no one would grow it. Agriculture simply provides an outlet and second income stream from what’s left, which is predominantly protein and some fibre. So really, very similar to palm oil…….

  5. Thank you Lyndsey, I live in Sierra Leone where palm oil is widely farmed and sustains many families. I totally agree that the answer to all these problems is that we all (and I include myself in that statement) just need to consume less!

  6. Well Lyndsey I made an assumption based on your chosen title for the article… “WHY I’M NOT BOYCOTTING PALM OIL THIS CHRISTMAS OR EVER.”…and your comment “Palm oil is actually a very efficient and productive crop”…..I disagree but don’t focus on my (mis)use of the word praise, focus on your article content. And I think you should be talking about animal habitat loss and human health problems, which are directly related to Palm oil. Your article reads as very one sided.

    1. Assumptions are dangerous. The title was a very successful attempt at getting people to look at the many other sides of the complex issue of palm oil production, distribution and consumption. If you’ve made your assumption after only reading the title then I would urge you to remain open minded to the actual message I am trying to convey. There is no side to my argument, this is not about my opinion. This is about the facts presented.

  7. Hi Lyndsey, read yr article and watched the Iceland advert and wanted it shown on TV. I for one am intelligent enough to spot a “snow-job” , but the Iceland advert does highlight something that we all need to take cognition of . We can’t keep destroying the rain-forest and its eco-systems without ultimately destroying humanity. Polar bears didn’t really work so maybe the Urangs will.

    1. Thanks Neil, and yes completely agree. If it wasn’t for the advert I wouldn’t have spent the last 5 days having intelligent and thoughtful discussions about this issue. Let’s hope the conversation keeps going and things start to change for the better. X

  8. No oil is a health-food, but palm and coconut oil are unusual among plant-based fats in that they have been shown in numerous scientific studies to raise LDL cholesterol.
    All oil, whether it be organic, cold-pressed or produced in a factory, damages the endothelial cells, causing the hardening and premature aging of the arteries.
    The high omega 6 content of many vegetable oils and their instability under high temperatures means they are best avoided when cooking or frying. Use water or stock instead.

  9. Thank you. As stated it is a complicated matter. Unfortunately most want simpler advice so I’m sticking with your recommendation to buy local if possible and eat less meat.

    1. Perfect solution instead of getting caught up in something we alone cannot and will not fix. Do your bit immediately instead, by buying less and buying local. Common sense I say.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this. As a Malaysian conservationist working in my own country, the whole ignorant and woefully misinformed boycott movement makes me grit my teeth in frustration, it really drives me crazy how little people understand the true situation on the ground here in Southeast Asia. I don’t know any conservationist in Southeast Asia who believes that a palm oil boycott is the solution, so I’m glad that others from outside the region are speaking up on this issue more and more to point out the fallacy. Also, why is there not a similar campaign and boycott movement regarding beef and soy production – hypocrisy much, Iceland and Greenpeace???

  11. You’ve missed a key point, that in Borneo specifically, unsustainable palm oil is a massive contributor to deforestation in Orangutan habitats. Palm oil may not be the biggest global deforestation issue but Orangutans were the focus of this advert and Greenpeace / Iceland are clearly and openly highlighting their plight. So in this case the palm oil plantations in Borneo ARE the key issue.

  12. Such a poorly written piece. Not one mention of the indigenous peoples affected by the licensed genocide that is continually in progress as land is stolen from those who have been the guardians of our rainforest for tens of thousands of years. People are very quick to get upset about a dying Orang Utan, but what about the dying Orang Asli and the continued genocide occurring in West Papua? Such a westerncentric view point.

    1. Hi Simon so sorry you feel this way about my post. It sounds as though you know a lot about The sociopolitical problems with palm oil? I must admit this is not something I know a lot about however I am aware that this goes on. I haven’t included it in this piece as this was a piece on deforestation and the environment. Some others have commented on this issue too which I’m grateful for as like I say, the matter is very complex.

    2. Hi Simon so sorry you feel this way about my post. It sounds as though you know a lot about The sociopolitical problems with palm oil? I must admit this is not something I know a lot about however I am aware that this goes on. I haven’t included it in this piece as this was a piece on deforestation and the environment.

  13. I think this is a great article. I just wanted to say one thing, I think it would be wise to suggest people USE their duplicates of products before buying new ones, rather than getting rid of them.

    1. Hi Flo! Haha yes probably better wording, am I forgiven for assuming that people would understand that that is what I meant? 😊 x

  14. I think the ‘not ever’ position you advocate is ill advised. Pressure must continue to be applied to the industry in this circumstance as the issue is focused on the specific need to protect the Urangutang populations. The protests are not directed at closing down the palm oil industry – simply to ensure that producers produce ethically and wildlife is not threatened as a result.

  15. Hi Lyndsey, My British Law trainer husband would just like to correct you on the first part – its been banned on the ICELAND ad because it has apolitical message in it, which is not allowed on British TV as an Advert. If it had been done by WWF a Charity as an appeal it would have probably got through. If off to buy my Rangtan toy from Iceland and I will support any efforts to help this planet. didn’t find your article very helpful.

    1. Hi Tracey, thanks for your comment. I’d just like to correct your husband. The original Greenpeace cartoon was not allowed on tv because of its political nature. Iceland knew this but attempted to push it through anyway (I suspect their back up plan was to show it through social media anyway so no loss to them as it would gain attention either way).

      Before you buy your Rangtan I would urge you to question where your teddy was made, what it’s made from and who made it. Another unhelpful marketing ploy from Iceland that is not only wasteful but completely unnecessary. If you want to support the charity, please do. You don’t need a mascot that is only destined for landfill to feel good about doing it.

  16. “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.”

    Are they trying to do better to be more environmentally friendly compaired to other large supermarkets or are there others that are sending a better message? Just think what would happen if every food producer started to be more environmentally friendly? One step at a time!

    1. Completely agree! However, many supermarkets are already light years ahead of this chain. Check out Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and M&S x

      1. how many people can afford to shop at Waitrose or M&S though? that’s a very exclusive market

      2. Agree to a point. Depends what you are buying. If you’re eating whole foods grown in this country, prices are similar wherever you shop. Since being vegan my weekly food shop bill has reduced dramatically x

  17. Quite a thought provoking blog but it would have been better if you had included some references to where you obtained your figures and statistics from so people could see the proof for themselves.

    1. Hi Denise, thanks for your comment. I completely agree! I will be updating the blog to include more links to my sources this week. When I wrote the blog I didn’t envisage that it would be seen by nearly half a million people! Moral of the story, ALWAYS assume your post will go viral! 😬 xx

  18. Surely giving up palm oil is better than not giving palm oil? Have only seen people who eat meat sharing this article and wondering if they even read it… go vegan!

  19. Agree it’s not the answer to deforestation but boycot rather than certify…is this a sign people’s attitudes are changing faster? Speaking from only personal experience, the younger generation are turning to veganism and not for self but for planet. Other comments here are interesting to read (you could have the same attitude to coal, we need to start somewhere). Weren’t Iceland the first supermarket to pledge to get rid of plastic packaging by a certain date? My work canteen recently switched to decomposable coffee cups (for those that have not yet switched to reusable) and takeaway boxes of paper not plastic. Awareness, change, reduce, one step at a time.

  20. I thought Iceland’s advert was about the orangutans?
    “Orangutans are found only in the rain forests of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. They spend nearly their entire lives in trees—swinging in tree tops and building nests for sleep.”
    “Malaysia was the world’s largest producer of palm oil by the mid 20th century and this stayed true until the Indonesian government began investing into the industry in the 1970s. This expansion officially pushed the country into the lead spot for top producer in 2007 and the nation now supplies the majority of the world’s growing demand for this cheap edible oil. “

  21. Thanks Lyndsey for a thoughtful article, but I’m surprised you don’t mention the single most obvious action individuals can take, which is to reduce their meat consumption, preferably to zero. Even reducing by 50% would make a phenomenal difference, given that the primary cause of deforestation as you yourself explain is the meat industry, either directly or indirectly.

  22. very interesting and hugely informative, thank you. But maybe the important point about the Iceland/Greenpeace advert was, that in their particular campaign it wasn’t simply about de-forestation, but also about the loss of the very limited Orangutan habitat and the resultant severe decline of that species?

  23. I was thinking, here we have developed countries whose people live generally quite well, criticizing developing countries for clearing forests for plantations but yet I see very little effort on the part of developed countries, who cut down their trees over centuries, to actually give up their farm land and replant forests. What the heck is that about ?

    1. I made this point on another thread Sher. We have to remember that when considering this issue. Our forests have long gone as we developed centuries ago. We cannot expect other countries not to want to do the same but we must help them do it in a way that benefits not only them but the entire planet xxx

  24. While I agree with much of what you’ve written in this article, and thank you for presenting some facts and figures, I do feel that your title (and emphasis) encourages a blanket response to a complex situation. Just because Iceland’s motives might not be 100% genuine (they have to keep their shareholders happy after all), and the fact that palm oil is not the biggest contributor to deforestation (by a long shot) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be campaigning and using our powers as consumers to ensure greedy corporations aren’t causing irreparable damage to habitats when there are environmentally and economically sustainable ways of growing the same crop. As you rightly say, the most environmentally friendly choice for people is not to eat animal products (or at the very least, beef) and that’s a much harder battle to fight. I feel you should have focused on that, rather than encouraging people to ignore what they’ve seen about palm oil just because the message is over-simplified or wrongly-motivated.

  25. The click bait headline and part of your blog reads as though it was written by a press officer for the palm oil industry. I agree with the buy local and eat unprocessed approach. The slashing and burning of any area of natural rainforest is unacceptable but the focus on palm oil is because the Orangutan is now critically endangered. You should know that the RSPO is not delivering sustainable palm oil; some of its members are the biggest culprits when it comes to illegal deforestation as this recent report shows. https://www.facebook.com/135156176637561/posts/1163153837171118/
    I have been to Borneo and have seen the impact of palm oil plantations and I have spoken with locals who are unhappy at the loss of the rainforest and the demise of the Orangutan. I will continue to try and avoid palm oil where possible (it’s not easy) and I applaud the Iceland palm oil free initiative and their adoption of the Greenpeace advertisement. I hope that you would think about the plight of the Orangutan too and perhaps highlight it in your next blog.

  26. Thanks for the deeper insight – and yes we should all encourage the greater education of all on these often more complex matters (dare I mention the B word😬?) – equally most marketers know that the overwhelmingly dominant force in sales IS emotion, be it over a cause, a kitten (or baby orangutan) or over our pennies, and that ‘emotional’ responder can only digest one or two word ‘hooks’ eg. Discount; half price; less fat; 100% natural; fairtrade; organic etc. Hence the marketers strongest weapon: OUR wilful ignorance! We’re just to busy or too lazy to do the ‘math’ for ourselves…

  27. Hi Lyndsey, Your article is certainly very thought-provoking. I can see what you mean about palm oil being a smaller contributer to deforestation than timber, soy and cattle farming, but I think that sanctioning deforestation for any reason is suicide as the forests are the lungs of the world and our only real hope of absorbing the vast amount of carbon dioxide we have produced.
    Other oils, even if not as productive, do not require rainforest-type conditions to grow.
    Another issue I have with palm oil is the fact it is so saturated and bad for your health. India currently has an obesity epidemic attributed to now widespread use of palm oil https://www.thenation.com/article/how-palm-oil-became-the-high-fructose-corn-syrup-of-the-developing-world/.
    There is a graph by Iowa State University comparing the saturation of different oils. Check it out at https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/spendsmart/2013/08/19/vegetable-oils-comparison-cost-and-nutrition/
    As individuals we can do what we can to reduce our impact on deforestation ie buy timber from non-rainforest sources and reduce or cut out the amount of meat we eat. Removing palm oil from our diets is worth it, in my opinion. Spreading the word about the causes of deforestation is also important as our children are learning about climate change at school, are worried and need to know how to help as they want to have a future on this planet.
    The leading cause of our problems is undoubtably overpopuation and overconsumption. The group “Population Matters” outlines how we can bring our population down to a sustainable level (currently we have double the amount of people that the planet can sustain). You may find their website interesting. https://populationmatters.org/

  28. This article completely ignores the fact that orangutans only live in Borneo and Sumatra, so by supporting palm oil from those islands, you are directly contributing to the destruction of their habitat. If your goal is to keep all forests intact with the belief that no forest has greater value than any other, you may not need to boycott palm oil. If your goal is to keep orangutans from going extinct, boycott is a very effective way to make companies reassess their sourcing strategies. The point of a palm oil boycott is not to end all palm oil use and production, but rather to end destructive practices in two very specific and relatively small locations by applying market pressure

  29. I feel like this article completely missed the mark of the Iceland advert. While yes, it is talking about deforestation, the issue of palm oil and orangutans is SO MUCH more than just deforestation. Yes, immense chunks of forest are cleared for beef and other production and it is horrendous – one of my main reasons for being a vegan, but that doesn’t mean that I just ignore the issue of palm oil. Large chunks of primary rain forest are cleared – mainly through the use of fire, for palm oil plantations. Critically endangered orangutans are burnt alive. Others that don’t perish in the fire are forced into villages where they are either killed or captured and kept as pets.

    This is more than just deforestation – this is the horrendous and painful destruction of a species.

    https://orangutan.org/rainforest/the-effects-of-palm-oil/

    I would suggest reading the Rapid Response Assessment “The Last Stand of the Orangutan: State of Emergency: Illegal logging, Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks” by United Nations Environment Program.

    You have an amazing platform to share information and inspire change in people – and I feel like this was an extremely missed opportunity to change the world for better.

  30. As I understand it, your argument mainly focuses on the deforestation in Brazil for animal farming. But the Iceland ad was trying to highlight the effect on orangutans of the terrible and indiscriminate deforestation in Indonesia and Borneo….which surely is a whole different matter. Sorry but I definitely side with Greenpeace and Iceland that there is a need to let people know, and think about, the terrible destruction of wildlife going on in the Far East.

  31. Interesting read, I have recently become aware that boycotting palm oil is ineffective for making a positive difference and I like how you have highlited that as well as as Iceland’s new potential motives, I guess a new thing we have to watch out for now as people become more consumerism aware is brands like Iceland trying to appear more ethically conscious to boost profits, which is made so easy in a context where so many people are given misleading information.

  32. Hi again Lyndsey, having read several comments saying that it’s all about the orangutans and their habitats in Borneo and Sumatra, I’ve realised that one key piece of information has been missing from the conversation: the fact that a boycott will most likely NOT stop deforestation or loss of orangutan habitats in Borneo or Sumatra either. Oil palm companies that have tried to be sustainable and attain RSPO certification do so at great cost and effort to themselves; certification is not cheap or easy. They were promised they could sell their certified palm oil at a premium price in Europe. Yet after going to all that trouble they’re finding that they can’t get enough buyers for their certified sustainable palm oil precisely because the influence of the boycott lobby has been so strong. So the message being sent to these responsible producers is: “Don’t bother spending extra money and making an extra effort to be sustainable, just carry on with the destructive business-as-usual practices”. What the large companies will then do is simply shift to selling unsustainable palm oil to growing markets who don’t care about certification – such as China. The boycott movement will thus turn into a perverse incentive driving even more deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra, because suddenly there’s no more incentive for palm oil companies to be more responsible. The ones who will really suffer from the boycott are the smallholders comprising local – and yes, even indigenous – communities who rely on planting small-scale oil palm for their livelihoods. So it’s a lose-lose situation really.

  33. I think this is a brilliant article! It is a similar message to what we discuss with students that it is important to read all of the facts before you make a decision. I have a degree in Enviro. Science focussing on sustainability and this puts it perfectly! I’d also add that whilst boycotting palm oil for another ‘big’ oil can be more damaging, a better way all round is to just buy as local as you can to reduce ones’ carbon footprint and to promote sustainable purchasing habits.

  34. I admit the title made me a bit angry cause I thought it would be completely off topic, but it is a very well written and informative piece of text! Definitely sharing it!

  35. If the move were made to other oils, albeit ones that may need more land to cultivate, then surely the aim would be to produce in areas not so sensitive to environmental issues. The argument of course is the cost, production in SE Asia is cheaper in the field and corporations are profit focussed and will promote those areas to boost bottom lines. The real problem is us, the consumer, being such a large and uncontrolably ever increasing population.

  36. Very informative and thought-provoking article. I like the fact that you highlight the importance of the efficiency with which our food is produced, which is often not appreciated, even among those who are conscientious about what they eat. I was therefore all the more surprised to read that you advocate buying local produce as a solution.

    It’s true that the best thing you can do to reduce the environmental footprint of your food is to consume less, particularly less meat and more particularly less beef, which you rightly mention, and I applaud your veganism. (My wife and I went vegetarian for a while but then gave into temptation and relapsed. You could say I’m a bit of a hypocrite.) However, the next best thing you can do is to buy food that’s produced as efficiently as possible, which includes buying food that’s produced where it can be most efficiently produced (as a result of climate, soil type etc.). The carbon emissions from transporting food are in most cases negligible compared to those from producing the food.

    If something can be produced efficiently locally, then by all means buy it locally. Personally, I only buy European wine since grapes grow well in parts of Europe. Wine from France, Spain or Italy might not fit in with most Brits’ idea of local, but it’s a damn sight more local than wine from Australia, California or South Africa (and I live in southern Germany, so a bottle of Riesling or Zweigelt really doesn’t come from that far away).

    You could argue that if everyone in the UK only bought local produce, then the UK would no longer contribute to the destruction of rainforests for palm oil, soy and cattle ranching. However, if everyone in the UK only bought local produce, half the population would starve as the UK can’t provide nearly enough food without importing and won’t be able to do so unless the population decreases drastically or everyone goes vegetarian.

    A more realistic scenario involves a significant proportion of the population buying a significant proportion of their food locally. These people create a demand for things like British tomatoes, which require a lot more resources than, say, Spanish tomatoes and also displace crops that do grow well in the UK like potatoes, root vegetables and cereal crops, thereby decreasing the total amount of food grown in the UK. If the rest of the population who don’t check where their food comes from don’t change their diet, they will necessarily end up consuming more food imported from abroad without realizing it. You can reduce your own food miles, but it’s very difficult – and in fact counterproductive – to reduce everyone’s food miles. This is very similar to the argument you make when you so elegantly say that switching from palm oil to more land-hungry soy “would be like cutting off Mother Earth’s nose to spite her lovely green face”.

    So how can you tell how resource-intensive your food is? Simple: the price. The price of most products is the best indicator of the resources required to produce that product. Meat costs more than fruit because it requires more resources to produce, and fruit costs more than cereal crops because it requires more resources to produce. When an organic product costs more than the conventional equivalent, it’s because the yield is lower, meaning more resources (mostly land) are required to produce the same amount and the organic product is therefore *less sustainable* than the conventional equivalent. On the other hand, some organic products cost roughly the same as the conventional equivalent, in which case the producer has managed to produce the organic product roughly as efficiently as the conventional equivalent. It’s exactly the same with local produce.

    Your article highlights very well how black-and-white convictions like “palm oil bad” are oversimplifications and how the truth is much more complicated. As Graeme Kidd has pointed out, “In my short life, the most pertinent statement I’ve learnt is “Things are seldom the way they appear”.” However, your black-and-white conviction “buy local good” is just as much of an oversimplification.

  37. Very informative and thought-provoking article. I like the fact that you highlight the importance of the efficiency with which our food is produced, which is often not appreciated, even among those who are conscientious about what they eat. I was therefore all the more surprised to read that you advocate buying local produce as a solution.

    It’s true that the best thing you can do to reduce the environmental footprint of your food is to consume less, particularly less meat and more particularly less beef, which you rightly mention, and I applaud your veganism. (My wife and I went vegetarian for a while but then gave into temptation and relapsed. You could say I’m a bit of a hypocrite.) However, the next best thing you can do is to buy food that’s produced as efficiently as possible, which includes buying food that’s produced where it can be most efficiently produced (as a result of climate, soil type etc.). The carbon emissions from transporting food are in most cases negligible compared to those from producing the food.

    If something can be produced efficiently locally, then by all means buy it locally. Personally, I only buy European wine since grapes grow well in parts of Europe. Wine from France, Spain or Italy might not fit in with most Brits’ idea of local, but it’s a damn sight more local than wine from Australia, California or South Africa (and I live in southern Germany, so a bottle of Riesling or Zweigelt really doesn’t come from that far away).

    You could argue that if everyone in the UK only bought local produce, then the UK would no longer contribute to the destruction of rainforests for palm oil, soy and cattle ranching. However, if everyone in the UK only bought local produce, half the population would starve as the UK can’t provide nearly enough food without importing and won’t be able to do so unless the population decreases drastically or everyone goes vegetarian.

    A more realistic scenario involves a significant proportion of the population buying a significant proportion of their food locally. These people create a demand for things like British tomatoes, which require a lot more resources than, say, Spanish tomatoes and also displace crops that do grow well in the UK like potatoes, root vegetables and cereal crops, thereby decreasing the total amount of food grown in the UK. If the rest of the population who don’t check where their food comes from don’t change their diet, they will necessarily end up consuming more food imported from abroad without realizing it. You can reduce your own food miles, but it’s very difficult – and in fact counterproductive – to reduce everyone’s food miles. This is very similar to the argument you make when you so eloquently say that switching from palm oil to more land-hungry soy “would be like cutting off Mother Earth’s nose to spite her lovely green face”.

    So how can you tell how resource-intensive your food is? Simple: the price. The price of most products is the best indicator of the resources required to produce that product. Meat costs more than fruit because it requires more resources to produce, and fruit costs more than cereal crops because it requires more resources to produce. When an organic product costs more than the conventional equivalent, it’s because the yield is lower, meaning more resources (mostly land) are required to produce the same amount and the organic product is therefore *less sustainable* than the conventional equivalent. On the other hand, some organic products cost roughly the same as the conventional equivalent, in which case the producer has managed to produce the organic product roughly as efficiently as the conventional equivalent. It’s exactly the same with local produce.

    Your article highlights very well how black-and-white assertions like “palm oil bad” are oversimplifications and how the truth is always much more complicated. As Graeme Kidd has pointed out, “In my short life, the most pertinent statement I’ve learnt is “Things are seldom the way they appear”.” However, your black-and-white assertion “buy local good” is just as much of an oversimplification.

  38. I still won’t be buying from Cadbury’s. We have to start somewhere. Yes, it’s just a drop in the ocean but if you just look at the overwhelming odds and think you can’t do anything because you are just a small individual, that’s what the mega corps are hoping for. I accept that Iceland is a commercial organisation. But whatever the possibly cynical reason were behind it (and I don’t accept that they were entirely cynical), they have started a debate. They have raised an awareness. And that can only be good. Posts like yours help to spread the message. It’s a long road to walk on, but the more people walking it, the better.

    1. 100% agree! They have certainly thrust the issue into the limelight so we should congratulate them for that, I just don’t like greenwashing and felt called to action! Like I say in my post, we all need to reduce our reliance on processed, oil laden foods and over consumption in general! It is a long road but we must keep spreading the message xx

  39. In this focus on SE Asia Orangutan problem, try remember that the humble palm tree is not the problem. Palm nuts were taken from West Africa to SE Asia in the 70s. West Africa does NOT have a deforestation issue. They have been farming these for centuries.
    Farmers in Weat Africa depend on their crop to feed their families and earn a living. No Orangutans involved. However, the half assed focus on the Indonesian deforestation is impacting families in West Africa. These guys don’t even know what an orangutan is! Yet they are being vilified for farming organically, as they have always done for ages.

    It is great to highlight the plight of the Orangutans. I love those guys but a little caveat to actually tackle the problem instead of a blanket crusade against the humble palm oil.

    Segmentation comes to mind. So, they should indicate that the target is Indonesian Palm oils. Not Global palm oil.

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