Palm oil boycott could mean MORE deforestation

^ “Save our Souls” – Artist Ernest Zacharevic emblazons a cry for help across the oil palms of Indonesia in collaboration with the Sumatran Orangutan Society

It’s in over 50% of our products. But unbeknownst to us, each crunch of our Ritz cracker or Cadbury’s chocolate has been driving rampant deforestation. But now, second to the straw impaled turtle, the tragic fate of a sweet, severely endangered orangutang has truly reached the heartstrings of citizens worldwide. Another uprising urging the protection of our living planet – especially when even David Attenborough seems to be stifling the urgency of our current circumstances – that’s great, right?

Unfortunately, the issue has been misunderstood by many. Having spoken to several experts on the topic, IN SHORT: it’s complex, but a boycott will almost certainly worsen the situation. Globally, we need more sustainable certification. But this does little to tackle the issue at its core: that we have completely lost touch with what we consume, but can no longer hide from the devastation our system that puts profit above planet and people has had.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock of late, Iceland recently released an ad featuring said orangutan that has fuelled the furious backlash of a blanket boycott on the incriminating ingredient. Except, the ad wasn’t banned. Fact is, ads of a political nature like this, produced a while back by Greenpeace who partnered with the supermarket giant to get more traction, are simply are not allowed on UK television.

While Iceland have made an admirable move in terms of their plastic strategy, the company are not innocent in terms of their dirty palm oil track record, meaning this could be seen as more of a PR ploy to capture the millennial market (see below Facebook post for more details).

There’s no denying palm oil has had a DEVASTATING impact on the environment. It is, however, the most productive vegetable crop in the world, yielding up to five times per unit of land and requires far less pesticide and fertiliser than alternatives like soy or rapeseed.

  • “Due to vastly inferior yields, alternatives to palm oil may present increased threats to ecosystems and biodiversity,” – Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of Orangutan Land Trust.
  • WWF (2015): “Palm oil might seem like an evil crop, but in truth, it is not. The world continues to need vegetable oils and if this doesn’t come from palm oil we could need nine times more land which could mean more deforestation, more habitat conversion and even greater releases of greenhouse gases. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer!
  • Greenpeace:  We’re not anti-palm oil, we don’t support a boycott, we do demand urgent change.

It also comes from developing countries like Indonesia who lack alternative compensation: “So far climate finance to protect forests is woefully short of what is needed, and backing out could leave open to companies that care even less.” – Charles O’Malley, working with the UN.

"As more of the forests are lost, we lose a little bit of ourselves in the process" - Ernest Zacharevic

Such a thing as sustainable palm oil?

In “The Green Lie” documentary expert Kathrin Hartmann exclaimed there to be no such thing as sustainable palm oil. But the fact is, we are going to need oils. With a large proportion of it for instance used as a supposedly “green” fuel. But due to the continued focus on a complete boycott,

“there is little incentive for producers to seek certification – or for retailers to promote environmentally and socially responsible products… Only about half of sustainable palm oil is actually sold as certified, as a large proportion of the market is not willing to pay the premium for sustainable products. Many brands and supermarkets (such as Morrison’s, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s in the UK) already use certified palm oil, but cannot heavily promote this due to the persistent negativity toward any type of palm oil.” – (see link below)

What can we do?

  • Conscience vs convenience? Get more in touch with our food, and have fun with it! Eat whole foods i.e. (preferably seasonal) plants – beef joins palm oil, soy (90% of which is feedstock for feeding cows) and wood (also needed to produce the pulp replacing plastic!) as by far the worst of these four largest causes of deforestation.
  • Go homemade to save your health as well as the plastic (see plenty plant based recipes here) at the same time by avoiding it in its many sneaky forms in packaged processed products -even peanuts at parties, as I was recently reminded (looks like I’ll be going hungry as the often only plant based option. JK).
  • Otherwise “if certification of palm oil becomes more popular, it will improve prospects for wildlife, including orangutans. This is why major conservation organisations – including leading orangutan charities and Greenpeace – continue to support certified palm oil, rather than a boycott”
    • Opt for deforestation free products, check here for a thorough list by Travel for Difference and here by WWF.
  • Urge retailers and companies and sign petitions to drop dirty palm oil.
  • Bonus option: don’t have so many children to reduce demand.


Expert at the University of Kent explaining (video):

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