Palm Oil and Wild Animals: a Deadly Connection
It may be a
surprise or a well know fact to you: palm oil is a direct threat to wild
animals. This is because this oil is cheap and widely used in products you
probably buy and use every day.
There is an explosion in demand for cheap palm, and
that means clearing of pristine rainforest is accelerating.
Why is Palm a Threat to Wild Animal?
This is one of the most documented cases of
destruction of wonderful pristine tropical forests to plant... a monoculture of palm.
During the clearing then burning of the forest, most animals are killed.
For the few
ones that survive though, there isn't a much better outcome: deprived of
their territory, the trees and shelters they knew, the knowledge they
often acquired through their mum, they are lost.
Homeless animals are now left to fight the resident animals of the surrounding forests for their home.
displaced wild animals will often die of starvation, get pushed out of
the dwindling forest into farms and killed because they compete with
locals villagers for food.
The palm monoculture that has now replace the beautiful tropical forest consists of the same tree, planted over and
This is a problem because wildlife needs lots of
different trees: they provide different food obviously, and with their
different shapes (a bush, a tall broad tree with hollows...) they also create
shelters for different wild animals.
The palm plantations create a homogeneous
landscape which cannot provide food and shelter for a wide array of wildlife,
as the complex rainforest does.
Thus the area is now lost for wild animals.
Tropical forest cleared to plant palm... Credits: Rainforest Action Network
How Serious Is the Threat to Wildlife?
- Habitat clearing for palm plantations is considered the Number 1 Threat to wildlife
in Indonesia and Malaysia.
- In 2013, the area of 300 football fields of rainforest
is being destroyed every hour.
- 3.5 million ha of forest has been converted to palm oil in the past 20 years in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
- On top of that, the cleared trees are wasted: they are
burnt. This also release CO2 and contribute to climate change.
- Areas of peatlands are converted to palm plantations, which release a disproportionately high amount of CO2 from peat fires and peat oxidation.
- Other impacts are increased soil erosion and flooding; air, soil
and water pollution; increased fire risk and loss of ecosystem
The number of wild animal potentially threatened
400 land mammal species
15 critically endangered species
125 threatened species
300 land mammal species
6 critically endangered species
41 threatened species
Number of animal species threatened by the clearing of their habitat for palm oil
Wildlife directly endangered by the industry
includes charismatic species such as:
- rhinos (Asian rhinoceros and Sumatran rhinoceros),
- Asian elephant,
- Sumatran tiger
- sun bear,
- clouded leopard
- proboscis monkey...
A Malaysian sun bear... Credits: Tom Friedel
But of course all the millions of less charismatic
wildlife found in tropical forests suffer too. Some of this wildlife, we might
lose before we even know it ever existed.
Orangutan population has been reduced by half in the
last 10 years, and habitat loss due to palm plantations is a big part of it. Orangutans
are only found in Indonesia and Malaysia, when they disappear from there, that’s it!
palm industry also usually involve big businesses, that don’t always
care about depriving indigenous landowners of their land to put their
plantation. Thus this is a threat to wildlife and local people!
What Can You Do to Help Wildlife Facing the Palm
Tell the industry you care: support certified
sustainable palm plantations!
One available alternative is palm sourced from certified sustainable plantations. It’s called:
- RSPO certified, standing for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,
- CSPO, standing for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.
Don't fall for "GreenPalm", this actually does not mean
what you are about to buy did not destroy tropical forests nor killed
It just mean people bought Palm Oil (whatever the production
conditions) then compensated this by buying GreenPalm certificates -
these certificates are linked to some other palm plantation that does
apply the RSPO standards.
Basically, it's like the carbon credits: you buy your right to pollute from other, better companies.
RSPO / CSPO is a better choice because these plantations are not supposed to clear more pristine tropical forest: hopefully then, if we all buy RSPO certified no further clearing in tropical forest should happen.
RSPO / CSPO certified producers are also supposed to have “Better Management Practices” - although that hasn’t really translated in higher biodiversity so far…
Have you seen this green label? Keep looking!
We as consumers have the power to influence companies that use palm to buy certified sustainable products. This is a first step,
one that tell the industry we care about the plantations' impacts.
Half of the products we buy in the supermarket
actually contain palm, therefore our power is enormous.
Think ice cream, bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips,
sandwich spreads, instant noodles, toothpaste, shower cream, shampoo: yep, they
all got it.
There is a WWF classification of brands that use palm products. Here are some examples:
- The Body Shop,
- ASDA (Walmart),
- Marks & Spencer.
- ALDI Nord,
See the WWF palm sustainability classification of retailers and manufacturers on their website for many more brands.
Ask the companies you like: "Are you using sustainable palm?"
It is often hard to see when you buy a
product whether it does have RSPO certified palm or not.
One thing you can do is write to your favourite brand - the one you
already for other reasons: because it is animal cruelty free, in
locally produced, organic - and ask them: "Are you using sustainable palm?"
If they don’t already
use RSPO certified products, they probably will if enough of their
customers inquire about it.
When they answer back to you, check two things:
- that they use the words RSPO certified (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) or CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil), which are the real deal,
- that they say 100% of our palm oil is RSPO or CSPO, and not some less clear phrasing - many companies only use a little bit of sustainable palm oil to look good.
RSPO palm oil is not perfect (but it's better than nothing)
The biggest problem with RSPO is that
it relies on self reporting - thus it is very much opened to greedy
companies abusing the system. Also RSPO is said to fail to act when
companies breach the principles...
One last problem with RSPO:
the RSPO certified oil is often mixed with dodgy oil, which means many
products that use the green logo RSPO actually also have oil that is
grown by destroying pristine forests...
Which should make us wonder, should we really trust RSPO to solve the problem?
There is a lot
of debate on whether RSPO certification is indeed protecting rainforest
enough now... but many Non for Profit organizations are working hard to make RSPO
certification truly sustainable for wildlife - for the future.
So, our position on palm oil?
At least try to avoid it for the time being, until the industry
has done a better job in telling us what is truly sustainable or not.
Influence food companies to change oil: it’s better
for you anyway!
Many times we can see a parallel: what has a negative
impact on wildlife is usually bad for you too.
Look at using chemicals like detergent or insecticides (toxic for
the environment and inside your house), eating too much meat (unhealthy for you
and the environment) or wildlife roadkill that can also put you in the hospital...
Well here’s another one: palm oil is bad for wildlife
because it destroy their rainforest, and it is also bad for your health:
- it is high
in bad fat (saturated fat) which increases risks of clogged arteries, heart
disease and obesity,
- it is low
in better fat (polyunsaturated fat) which lower cholesterol and reduce your
risk of heart disease.
The demand for palm oil is forecast to double by 2020.
Can you imagine what that means?
It might mean a world with no more wild orangutans…
So avoid consuming palm oil in packaged food, and if
your favourite cookie or ice cream contains it, write to the company to
show you care. If enough of us demand it, there is heaps of choice for them to switch
to a healthier oil full of the good fat such as Olive oil, Canola or Sunflower oil…
How do You Know You Are Not Eating Palm Oil?
It is actually much more difficulty than you would think...
Look at the ingredient list of packaged products in
your supermarket and avoid these main palm terms:
- Palm oil kernel
- “Palmitate” or “Palmate”
- Elaeis gunieensis
- Hydrated Palm Gylcerides Hexadecanoic
- Palmitic Acid
- Vegetable oil: if they don’t say which one, it’s
because they are not proud of it! You can bet it’s palm oil!!
Sadly big brands are clever: they will use tens of different names
for palm oil and its derivatives, so we don't know what we buy...
We need palm oil to be labelled!
can make it happen: please search for petitions already existing for
labeling palm oil in your country - or if there isn't a petition
already, create one at change.org
Look at the list below, how amazing that they use so many names? No one can know all these names by heart...
Acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472a/E472a)
Alkyl Poly Glucoside
Aluminium, calcium, sodium, magnesium salts of fatty acids (470/E470a; E470b)
Ammonium laureth sulphate
Ammonium lauryl sulphate
Ascorbyl palmitate (304)
Calcium oleyl lactylate
Calcium stearoyl lactylate (482/E482)
Caprylic / Capric Glycerides
Carotene (Sometimes made from palm)
Castile soap (often from palm)
Citric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472c/E472c)
Cocoa butter equivalent (CBE)
Cocoa butter substitute (CBS)
Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472e/E472e)
Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate
Distilled Monoglyceride Palm
Elaeis guineensis oil
Emulsifier 422, 430-36, 470-8, 481-483, 493-5
Epoxidized palm oil (uv cured coatings)
Ethyl lauroyl arginate (243)
Ethylene glycol monostearate
Fatty alcohol sulphates
Glycerin or glycerol (442)
Glyceryl stearate SE
Hydrogenated palm glycerides
Isopropyl titanium triisostearate
Lactic and fatty acid easters of glycerol (472b/E472b)
Lauryl glucoside (from palm)
Mixed tartaric, acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472f/E472f)
Mono-and- di-glycerides of fatty acids (471/E471)
Mono-glycerides of fatty acids
Myristic Cetrimonium Chloride Acid
Octyldodecyl stearoyl stearate
Palm fruit oil
Palm kernel oil
Palmitoyl myristyl serinate
PEG-15 stearyl ether
PEG-80 sorbitan laurate
Polyethylene (40) stearate (431)
Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids (475/E475)
Polyglycerol esters of interesterified ricinoleic acid (476/E476)
Polyglycerol-2 oleyl ether
Polyglyceryl-4 oleyl ether
Polysorbate 60 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate (435/E435)
Polysorbate 65 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan tristearate (436/E436)
Polysorbate 80 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monoolate (433/E433)
PPG-15 stearate ether
Propylene glycol esters of fatty acids (477/E477)
Propylene glycol laurate
Propylene glycol stearate
Saponified elaeis guineensis
Sodium cetearyl sulphate
Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye
Sodium lactylate; sodium oleyl lactylate; sodium stearoyl lactylate (481/E481)
Sodium laureth sulfate
Sodium laureth sulphate
Sodium laureth-13 carboxylate
Sodium lauroyl lactylate
Sodium lauryl ether sulphate
Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
Sodium lauryl sulphate
Sodium palm kernelate
Sodium stearoyl lactylate
Sorbitan monostearate (491)
Sorbitan tristearate (492)
Stearic acid (vegetable oil)
Stearic acid or fatty acid (570)
Sucroseesters of fatty acids (473/E473)
Alternate names for Palm Oil
You can thus only try to avoid products containing palm altogether...
There are lots of good people working on it though, with even an app being developed for your smart phone: it will help you identify products with or without palm when you are at the supermarket.
There are also facebook pages that identify products with palm oil and their alternative, safe to buy. Just search on the net: facebook palm oil "your country" to see whether there is a special facebook page on products in your country - there are some at least for USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Buy the tropical forest yourself
We need to act quick, there is not much time before we lose orangutans and other charismatic species.
A way to make sure a tropical forest will not be cut down for a palm plantation is to buy it and preserve it for wildlife.
This is what organisations such as The Orangutan Project or Orangutan Outreach are trying to do.
These are organisations usually focusing on orangutans rehabilitation and release as well as sanctuaries for the ones that can't live in the wild anymore, but they are also trying to get some money together to buy forests.
This might be our best short term bet to save orangutans and all other wildlife of these tropical forests...
Talk about this! Use whatever you can: facebook, twitter, your email list... Share this information, make it known! We are running out of time on this issue...
Buy products that use certified sustainable palm oil (RSPO or CSPO)
Sign petitions to label properly all palm oil (to stop using the tens of alternative names to disguise it)
Call companies that produce your beloved products and ask them to use only sustainable palm or switch to another oil
Buy some tropical forests
grows in tropical countries: it’s in direct competition with high diversity and
One of the most wildlife rich environments!
Palm oil is
in grown demand because it’s used in many packaged food: we can pressure food and
cosmetic companies to use certified sustainable products or switch to healthier
oil for human consumption.
In the meantime, avoiding products containing palm oil might be the only way we can be sure we are not responsible for the clearing of tropical forests.