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17th Oct, 2021

ECO ACTION - Why palm oil is such a problem for the environment

Bromsgrove Editorial 4th Sep, 2021

THIS article is brought to you by Bromsgrove Climate Action.

Deforestation is a major problem but for this we are looking at just one area of it.

Palm oil production has rocketed in recent years. It is more productive per hectare than any other oil, so is more profitable, and is good if grown sustainably. It is very versatile and widely-used.

The oil palm tree is native to Africa where it has been grown sustainably for a long time. Only growing in tropical rainforest areas it was taken to SE Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia 100 years ago, where 85 per cent of world supply is now grown. South American production is also increasing.

The problem is it’s a major driver of deforestation which means massive greenhouse gas amounts are released and biodiversity is destroyed.

We have seen the heart-breaking pictures of Orang Utans in Borneo and Sumatra as their habitats are destroyed for palm oil plantations. They are critically endangered in both countries – the Sumatran Orang is expected to be extinct in 10 years.

Sumatran tigers, elephants, sun bears and rhinos are equally threatened by loss of habitat and shooting when they stray into palm plantations. It is estimated 1,000 to 5,000 are killed every year. It is in almost everything we buy – margarine, pastry, biscuits, bread, cereal, chocolate, crisps, pet food, soup, baby milk, peanut butter, salad dressings, cleaners, shampoos, soaps and make-up.

It is almost impossible to be sure if something contains palm oil as it has 500 different names, making it hard to avoid.

Should we avoid it? Not necessarily. It is more economical in land area required, but has to be obtained from sustainable sources. Some companies are better than others. Marks and Spencer, Boots, Co-op and Aldi are all among the best. Warburtons, Greggs, Kellogg’s, Reckitt and Whitbread some of the worst. (Guardian report 2020).

Many companies did not respond.

Some companies have adopted the ‘sustainable’ logo although this is not always reliable. You can be sure products not carrying it contain non-sustainable palm oil. With the logo, there is a better chance of it being sustainable.

Maybe we should just boycott supermarkets that don’t seem to be trying. Maybe we should ask supermarket managers about their policies.

Go to palmoildetectives.com for a list of products to avoid.

The August 9 IPCC report found all steps to reduce our carbon footprint are really urgent – scientists agree we need to amend our ways so radically we are on ‘Code Red’

• Find ‘Bromsgrove Climate Action’ on Facebook or email bromsgroveclimateaction@gmail.com for more. New members are always welcome.

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