As you might have noticed, palm oil has been drawing a considerable amount of attention recently with Media, environmental organizations, politicians and even common folks taking a critical view at the issues related to its production. Palm oil itself is not the problem; it’s just an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm and to a lesser extent the American oil palm and the maripa palm. The cause of all the fuss and controversy is the farming and manufacturing practices associated with the oil. As palm oil has been massively used in commercial food industry all over the world, the high oil yield of the palm trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in many parts of the world (particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia) in order to make space for oil palm monoculture. This has resulted in significant losses of the natural habitat for a number of animal and plant species, many of which are critically endangered. Yet, many people are still not aware of the heartbreaking consequences of unsustainable palm oil production. Take a closer look with these 25 Shocking And Sad Facts About Palm Oil.
Palm oil is extremely high in saturated fat. One tablespoon of palm oil contains as many as 55 percent of the daily recommendation of saturated fat.
Several studies have linked palm oil to higher risks of cardiovascular diseases and ischemic heart disease deaths (68 deaths per 100,000 increase).
Palm oil is not used in food industry only. Today, abound 50 percent of all the goods we use every day contain palm oil, from processed foods to candles, cosmetics, washing detergents and “bio-fuels”.
Palm trees harvested for the oil need high temperatures and humidity to grow and fruit, which is why they flourish in rainforest areas.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared every hour to make way for palm oil production.
One of the reasons why palm plantations are so large is because every oil palm that is planted needs over 3 m (10 ft) diameter clear around each tree.
Palm oil is also produced in regions such as Central and West Africa or Central America but is in Malaysia and Indonesia where the vast majority of the oil is produced. In fact, just these two countries account for around 90% of the entire world palm oil production.
Up to 80% of the total deforestation in Indonesia is reported to be performed illegally.
Burning of the forests to clear land for cultivation has even made Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US).
Clearing just one hectare of peat forest can release up to 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Indonesia has already cleared over 10 million hectares of these forests.
One of the reasons why palm oil is so massively farmed is because it produces up to 10 times more oil per unit area than soya beans, rapeseed or sunflowers.
Given the rate of deforestation in the past years, new estimates suggest that 98% of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests may be completely destroyed by 2022.
Numerous animal species have been facing extinction due to the massive conversion of forests into palm plantations including the Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Tiger, Asian Rhinoceros, Sun Bear, Clouded Leopard, Malayan Tapir, Proboscis Monkey, Gibbon and many more.
However, it is the Sumatran orangutan who has become the symbol of the gruesome consequences of the unsustainable palm oil production. Over 50 orangutans are killed every week due to deforestation. Their homes are bulldozed and they are left to starve to death.
Deforestation also makes the orangutans more vulnerable to poachers. They are often run over by excavation equipment, doused in petrol and burnt alive, captured, tortured, beaten, shot or slaughtered as they are considered a pest by the oil palm companies. In 2006 alone, for example, at least 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death by palm workers. (Juan, this picture is the only non-CC image in the post but it is the most famous one and it illustrates the gruesomeness of the whole thing)
Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered as a consequence of the development that is rapidly encroaching on their habitat.
The palm oil industry is also linked to major human rights violations, including child labor in remote areas of Indonesia and Malaysia. Children are made to carry large loads of heavy fruit, weed fields and spend long hours bent over collecting fruit from the plantation floor.
As almost 45 million people live in the forests of Indonesia, the deforestation also has a direct impact on local population. In 2011, Wilmar (one of the world’s largest palm oil producers) bulldozed an entire village, destroying 40 homes to clear 40,000 hectares of land for a palm plantation.
Between 1967 and 2000 the area under cultivation in Indonesia expanded from less than 2,000 sq km (770 sq mi) to more than 30,000 sq km (12,000 sq mi). These days, the number is much greater.
At the beginning of the 20th century, about 250,000 tons of palm oil was exported annually from South-East Asia. This figure has risen to over 60 million tons today.
Millions of people across South East Asia have been affected by the thick, choking haze emitted from fires used to destroy the rain forests. Over 110,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of this toxic air pollution.
In 2014, Indonesia had the highest rate of deforestation in the world. Although second-placed Brazil is a much larger country, Indonesia “managed” to clear almost twice as much forest as the Southern American country in certain years.
Some lobbyists argue that the palm oil production is in fact eco-friendly as the palm oil is used to produce bio-fuels, others argue that the devastating consequences of transforming the rainforests into palm plantations are incomparably greater than the benefits of bio-fuels.
According to World Wildlife Fund, there are some 20 million hectares of abandoned land in Indonesia that could be used for palm oil plantations but many palm oil companies are tied in with logging firms as the timber is extremely valuable. Therefore, they prefer clearing virgin forests to get money twice – once for the timber and later for the oil.
Before the explosion of the palm oil industry, the Indonesian rain forests were so thick that the natives said orangutans were able to cross the whole island by just swinging from tree to tree, never touching the ground.