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Why You Should Boycott Palm Oil

Tropical rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands around the world are rapidly being destroyed to grow oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which produces a vegetable oil high in saturated fats, commonly known as palm oil. In recent decades, palm oil has become a common ingredient in candy, peanut butter, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair sprays, cosmetics, cooking oil, ramen noodles and other supermarket products, as well as biofuel. The oil palm is native to Africa but oil palm plantations have become one of the planet’s primary drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss, especially in southeast Asia (especially Malaysia and Indonesia). Rainforests are being chopped down to first sell the timber for an immediate profit and then to grow oil palm for sale domestically and on the international market. As of 2013, 85% of the world’s palm oil comes from non-certified sources that have few environmental or social safeguards.

The palm oil industry is directly responsible for: (1) the destruction of critical wildlife habitat in some of the world’s most biodiverse areas; (2) heavy pesticide use and release of toxic chemicals as effluent from palm mills; (3) the release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning and clearing of carbon-rich peatlands and rainforests, contributing to global warming; (4) erosion, which clogs streams and facilitates landslides; (5) an increase in saturated fats in the human diet; (6) the displacement of indigenous people; (7) the use of child and forced labor; (8) direct killing of wildlife by plantation owners who view animals that eat palm fruit as pests; (9) an increase in fossil fuel use as domestic sources of vegetable oil in the west are replaced with palm sourced from the other side of the planet.

“In Bali, I read the local paper and one of the concerns was the clearing of forests for palm oil groves. All of the environmental problems were cited. Also, in Singapore after I left there was quite a bit issue about the poor air quality from slash and burn clearing on the Island of Java across the Strait of Malacca. Lots of air pollution and need for breathing masks. When we were flying over Borneo before landing in Bali I took a bunch of photos from the plane of forest clearing, and also the rivers running orange/red from all the soil running off from the cleared lands, thus evidence of erosion. Palm oil export is a big business in Indonesia and Malaysia.” — Shirley, Geographer