Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on Earth, with high smoke, heat, and shelf stability. Its real advantage is commercial efficiency, since more palm oil can be produced per acre than comparable oils and with fewer herbicides and pesticides. That’s why the oil is found in about half of all processed and packaged goods in US grocery stores.
About 80% of global palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, and that’s the problem. It is one of the leading causes of continuing global rainforest deforestation with a double impact on carbon release—burning of old-growth forests and drying out carbon-rich peatlands. Smoke from these fires had a major impact on weather and health in Southeast Asia a few years ago.
Unfortunately, monocultures like palm oil plantations can absorb only as little as 5% of the carbon as original forest. Moreover, plantations destroy habitat and biodiversity, including threatening the extinction of unique local species (rhinos, elephants, orangutans). Too often, they also lead to human exploitation.
What we can do:
- Buy canola, sunflower, or other vegetable oil.
- Check the label before buying prepared foods to see if palm oil is listed. If it is, look for an alternative product.