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Truth in Labeling: Palm Oil, “Sustainability” & RSPO

Posted by: | April 1, 2013 Comments Off on Truth in Labeling: Palm Oil, “Sustainability” & RSPO |

In recent years a commonly-used ingredient in processed foods, soaps, and other products gained worldwide attention from environmentalists.  Palm oil, once marketed as the healthy, trans-fat free alternative to other oils, started headlining negative news reports.  Initially companies like Nestle, Kraft, and Cargill sought palm oil for its low price.  These companies could substitute trans-fat filled oils for oil that cost less, kept solid at room temperature, and was safer for customers’ waistlines.

This cheap commodity pricing came at a cost.  Palm oil originates in Africa, but now grows mainly in the deforested rainforest land of Indonesia.  The palms need hot, rainy climates to thrive.  Indonesia presents an ideal climate for palms.  Buyers such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) quickly invested in this cheap commodity.  Now palm oil is the second most widely produced oil behind soybean oil.[1]

Why is palm oil such a problem?  Because palm oil is found in so many products and can be bought quite cheaply, it is causing environmental devastation around the globe, but most acutely in Indonesia.  The palm production process involves clear cutting rainforests, usually followed by burning the remaining vegetation.  Burning is an easy clearing option that also prepares land for planting oil palm plantations.  This turns rainforests – which effectively sequester massive amounts of carbon — into palm plantations, in the process emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gasses.   Rainforest clearing caused Indonesia to jump to the third largest carbon emitter on the planet.[2] Products with palm oil thus have a strong likelihood to have contributed to this large scare environmental degradation.

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under: Food, International

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