5 Things to Know About Palm Oil

What Exactly Is Palm Oil?

Elaeis guineensis is the scientific name for edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm plants. Crude palm oil is obtained by squeezing the fleshy fruit, while palm kernel oil is obtained by crushing the kernel, or the stone in the middle of the fruit. Oil palm trees are native to Africa, but they were introduced to South-East Asia as an ornamental tree crop just over a century ago. Currently, Indonesia and Malaysia account for over 85% of world production, but palm oil is also produced in 42 other nations.

In Which Products Does It Appear?

Palm oil is found in practically all packaged foods, including pizza, doughnuts, and chocolate, as well as deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, and lipstick. In many places of the world, it's also used in animal feed and as a biofuel.

Why Is Palm Oil Distributed So Extensively?

Palm oil is a very versatile oil with a wide range of qualities and functions, making it incredibly useful and frequently utilized. It's semi-solid at room temperature, so it keeps spreads spreadable; it's resistant to oxidation, so it extends the shelf life of products; it's stable at high temperatures, so it helps to keep fried foods crispy and crunchy; and it's odorless and colorless, so it doesn't change the appearance or smell of food. Palm oil, like sunflower or olive oil in the UK, is commonly used as a cooking oil in Asian and African countries.

In comparison to other vegetable oils, the oil palm is an extremely efficient crop, capable of producing large amounts of oil over small areas of land practically all year. This makes it a desirable crop for smallholders and growers who can count on a stable income from palm oil.

Why Does Palm Oil Cause Problems?

Palm oil has been and continues to be a major cause of deforestation in some of the world's most biodiverse forests, endangering the habitat of already endangered species such as the Orangutan, pygmy elephant, and Sumatran rhino. Millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere as a result of forest loss and the conversion of carbon-rich peat soils, leading to climate change. Worker exploitation and child labor continue to be issued. These are severe challenges that the entire palm oil industry must solve because things do not have to be this way.

Are There Any Problems?

Companies, governments, and consumers all have a role to play in making palm oil more sustainable. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, was founded in 2004 in response to growing concerns about the environmental and social effects of palm oil. The RSPO has a production standard that establishes best practices for producing and procuring palm oil, and it has the support of the majority of the world's palm oil producers. Companies are urged to:

Set strong policies to eliminate deforestation, the alteration of other natural habitats like peatlands, and human rights violations from their supply chains.

They buy and use RSPO-certified palm oil in all of their businesses around the world.

Be open about their palm oil use and source, ensuring that they know who they're buying from and where it's coming from.

The palm oil sector must continue to invest in and expand support for smallholder programs and sustainable landscape efforts. The WWF is also collaborating with governments in both palm oil-consuming and palm oil-producing countries to guarantee that national rules are in place to ensure that any palm oil traded is free of deforestation, conversion, and exploitation.


WWF-International / James Morgan


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