Palm Oil

Palm Oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the African Palm Oil Tree (Elaeis Guineensis), and is found in hundreds of food and body products on the market today. The palm oil tree originated in West Africa, but can be grown in any hot, humid climate. Today almost all of our palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where huge swathes of rainforest are cleared for it to be planted.

As a direct result of this clearing, animals’ habitats are destroyed, the animals themselves are killed, and ecosystems are thrown out of balance. The fields of Palm Oil Trees that replace the tropical rainforest don’t allow anywhere near the same levels of biodiversity, and the plants and animals that survive the peat-draining, tree-felling and ground-burning must move or die. This includes endangered species such as the orangutan, the Sumatran rhino, the pygmy elephant of Borneo, and the Sumatran tiger.

There is the choice for companies to use ‘sustainable’ palm oil, by becoming members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Such members include high-street names like Unilever, Cadbury’s, NestlĂ© and Tesco. Disappointingly though, this isn’t a guarantee that when you buy from these companies, you’re actually getting sustainable palm oil in your products. Greenpeace’s website says this;

But since [RSPO’s creation in 2001], forest destruction has continued. Many RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry, such as large-scale forest clearance and taking land from local people without their consent. On top of this, the RSPO actually risks creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the palm oil industry.

Our investigations – detailed in our report Cooking The Climate – found evidence that RSPO members are still relying on palm oil suppliers who destroy rainforests and convert peatlands for their plantations. One member – Duta Palma, an Indonesian palm oil refiner – has rights to establish plantations on land which theoretically is protected by law.

The choice that you, as a consumer have, is between buying products containing crude palm oil, ‘sustainable’ palm oil or no palm oil. If you want to buy only from companies who are members of RSPO you can use this list of companies in your country. If you want to avoid palm oil completely, you’ll have a harder time of it.

Palm oil is used in countless products on the shelves of every supermarket today, and if you check the ingredients lists you may not always be able to pick it out. This is because it goes under several different names. Here are the most common;

Vegetable Oil Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Vegetable Fat Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Elaeis Guineensis Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
Palm Oil Sodium Kernelate
Palm Fruit Oil Sodium Palm Kernelate
Palm Kernel Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
Hyrated Palm Glycerides Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
Palmate Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye
Palmitate Stearic Acid
Palmolein Steareth -2
Palmitic Acid Steareth -20
Palm Stearine Glyceryl Stearate
Palmitoyl oxostearamide Octyl Palmitate
Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3 Cetyl Palmitate
Palmityl Alchohol Cetyl Alcoho

Definitely palm oil or derived from palm oil.

Often derived from palm oil, but could be from other vegetable oils.
Either derived from palm oil or coconut oil.

If the ingredients list only ‘vegetable oil’, this could mean palm oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, soy bean oil or many other types. One way to tell if the vegetable oil in question is not palm oil, is to first check that no animal fats were used as well, and then look up the saturated fat content of the product. Coconut and palm oil will have saturated fat, but all other oils will not, so if there is no saturated fat in the product you’re safe to assume it doesn’t contain palm oil.

Relevant Links

Palm Oil Action
Say No To Palm Oil
Why Is Palm Oil Bad For Orangutans?
Palm Oil’s Dirty Secret

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