Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Palm oil is a form of edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. It is believed to have recently eclipsed soybean oil to become the world's most widely produced edible oil. It is used in most processed food, cosmetic and household products.
More recently it is being touted as a biofuel - despite evidence that the use of palm-oil-based diesel actually increases greenhouse emissions. In non-food products like soaps and detergents, the list includes elaeis guineensis, sodium lauryl sulphate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, isopropyl and other palmitates, steareth-2, steareth-20 and fatty alcohol sulphates - all of which may be derived from palm oil.
Additives and agents such as emulsifiers (E471 is a common one), while only a small component of the overall product, can also be derived from palm oil. Other names to keep an eye out for that could be or be derived from palm oil are cocoa butter equivalent (CBE), cocoa butter substitute (CBS), palm olein and palm stearins.
Most of the processed food contains palm oil. If the saturated fat content is about 50%, there is a good chance that the vegetable oil will in fact be palm oil. Another thing to watch out for on the ingredients list is margarine. If the product contains margarine, it is highly likely that the margarine will have been derived from palm oil.
Why is it so bad?
With palm oil plantations expanding into regions on the planet that are of the most bio-diverse ecosystems, including rain forests, grasslands and peat swamps in South America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Africa, areas home to millions of plant and animal species, including highly endangered orang-utans, clouded leopards, and sun bears.The rapidly expanding palm oil trade, is the single greatest threat facing orang-utans today. Rain forests are being cleared at the rate of 300 football fields per hour to make way for oil palm plantations.
While there are millions of hectares of degraded land that could be used for plantations, many oil palm companies choose to instead use rain forest land to gain additional profits by logging the timber first. Palm oil companies also frequently use uncontrolled burning to clear the land, resulting in thousands of orang-utans being burned to death. Those that survive have nowhere to live and nothing left to eat.
So there you have it…
While palm oil itself is not 'bad for you', the massive destruction caused by humans who destroy natural forests to plant huge palm oil plantations, have no consideration for environment and the rest of its inhabitants.
So how do we make an informed choice about whether we need to use palm oil for everything from cooking to machine lubricant?
… Be an ethical and responsible consumer.