The production of palm oil has consequences for our environment. Large portions of rainforest in south-east Asia have been felled and burned through commercial practices to make way for palm oil plantations.
Given the negative implications of palm oil, both on our cardiovascular health and the greater environment, consumers have rallied to call for clear labelling of products that use palm oil. However, in Australia, it’s still only voluntary for manufacturers and importers to declare palm oil in the ingredients list. What makes it even harder for consumers to identify is the fact that palm oil can be found labelled under more than 400 alternative names.
In addition to the environmental impact, palm oil contains a high proportion of saturated fat, which is not typical of a vegetable oil.
Where is it found?
While you might not consciously consume palm oil, it’s used in half of all packaged consumer goods. Some common products include: lipstick, hair products like conditioner, margarine, detergent, soap, and ice cream.
These are everyday products, so it’s easy to see just how widely used palm oil is as an ingredient in consumer products.
Why is palm oil so bad?
Palm oil consumption can have negative health implications, and current commercial production practices have dire environmental impacts.
Higher levels of saturated fats are found in palm oil, and we know that consuming too much saturated fat is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol levels.
Palm oil production has been linked with the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra. These rainforests are home to dwindling elephant, orangutan, rhinoceros and tiger populations. Indigenous people have been displaced through clearing activities too.
Palm oil is a highly efficient crop when sustainably grown. With a higher yield than most other oil crops, less land is required to produce palm oil than other oils when best-practice is applied. Unfortunately, best-practice has not been implemented on a mass scale for commercial production.
Clear labelling of products containing palm oil is important because it allows consumers to make better informed decisions around their purchases, and the impacts of their consumption.