There has been a rise in media attention on palm oil at the moment, largely due to Iceland’s new Christmas advert, which encourages us to have ‘orangutan friendly’ festivities this Christmas season. But do you know what palm oil is, and where it hides?
Iceland’s Christmas advert was banned from being aired on TV for being deemed too political.
The 90 second short tells the story of a little girl finding a baby orangutan, Rang-Tan, in her room. She tells him to leave! then stops to find out why he is there in the first place. The resulting tale shows us diggers ripping up the forest Rang-Tan lives, taking away his mum, and leaving Rang-Tan scared and confused. All this in the pursuit of palm oil.
Supermarket chain Iceland is campaigning against the use of palm oil in food and cosmetics. They have vowed to remove palm oil from all their own label food by the end of this year, and already have ‘orangutan friendly’ Christmas lines on offer for this season.
But what exactly is palm oil?
Basically, palm oil is a type of vegetable oil found in a particular type of tree; the Oil Palm tree, which is native to West Africa. The oil is used as a staple in many dishes, particularly in southeast Asia and Brazil. It is cheaper than animal fats, offers the same culinary benefits and is very versatile. Oil Palm trees produce a lot of oil, making it low cost.
Why is it a problem?
So this all sounds quite good, doesn’t it? The problem comes, not with the oil itself, but with the way it is cultivated.
The cheapness and versatility of palm oil means it in very high demand. According to Greenpeace, nearly 50% of all supermarket products contain it. In order to meet this demand, palm oil plantations spring up where they’re not supposed to, and they are not maintained in a sustainable way. In order to create an palm oil plantation, huge areas of native forest are cleared. It’s estimated that a size the same as 300 football fields is cleared every hour to be replaced with Oil Palm trees. A huge number of species that live in these rainforests are being pushed to extinction. If we carry on the rate we’re going, the orangutan could be completely extinct in less than 10 years, and the Sumatran tigers in less than 3! Over 90% of the orangutan’s natural habit has already been destroyed by deforestation. Stories like little Rang-Tan’s are sadly very true.
It’s not just the animals that are affected. The huge levels of deforestation also increase climate change, destroy soil integrity, and the plantations themselves have been linked to human rights violations, such as child labour.
So can I avoid it?
Avoiding palm oil completely can be tricky; it is hidden in a fair few items you might not think of. There are also several palm oil derivatives that mean you should look out for other names in the ingredients lists, such as:
- Elaesis Guineensis
- Palmatic Acid
- Hydrated Palm Glycerides
Nearly all foods contain palm oil, including bread, ready meals, cereal, chocolate, ice cream, dips, pasta…
It’s also in numerous non-food items. Here’s a short list of things you may have as a parent, that might contain palm oil- check the ingredients! A quick google can tell you brands that avoid the use of palm oil in their products, such as this helpful list of baby products here
- Washing detergent
- Baby wipes
- Baby powder
- Pet food
- Body lotions and creams
- Baking ingredients such as flour, cream of tartar and icing sugar
- Nappy cream
- Steriliser tablets
You can watch Iceland’s full advert here.