The Story Behind Deforestation And Palm Oil That Is Sourced Sustainably

May 28, 2014 3 min read

There has been a lot in the news lately about Sustainably-Sourced Palm Oil. We wanted to give you a quick summary of the story and the players involved on all sides.



The palm fruit that grows out of the oil palm is the kind of produce that has many uses in many commercial foods: as edible vegetable oils, personal care products, and can even be processed into some source of biofuel products. Western Africa offers the most ideal conditions for the oil palm to flourish and is where the majority of palm oil produced is primarily used as an important part in basic food staple dishes. 



Today, the oil palm is grown throughout Asia and in North and South America — in areas with high rainfall climates typical of Western Africa. In fact, 85% of palm oil today is said to be grown and produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.



The demand for oil palm end-products has increased rapidly in recent decades as the single vegetable oil found in approximately 40 to 50% of household products — found in anything from baked goods and ice cream to cosmetics, cleaning detergents, air fresheners and tooth paste. It is estimated a total 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production with the average western citizens in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the UK consuming over 10kg of palm oil annually.

But the production of this very useful product comes with a price, as the impacts of oil production on the environment have become apparent. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has declared oil palm production as a major driver of deforestation and habitat degradation. Concerned environmental professionals are suggesting that the world can make a difference in doing things to reduce the guilt of footprint of environmental and social implications with palm oil sourced sustainably.



Sharon Smith, the campaign manager of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said in a statement that suggests efforts to source sustainable, deforestation-free palm oil is a credible way to help the industry towards cultivating palm oil that is deforestation-free.

The strategy requires companies and consumers to simply demand palm oil production:

  • that does not contribute to deforestation;

  • that isn’t grown on peat lands; and

  • that does not exploit human rights.

It is argued such simple requirements will place the ultimate burden on oil producers in the major oil palm producing countries to provide a better product.

Notably, multinational food retail giants such as Kellogg Company, Hersey Company, Nestle, and Delhaize Group, which are several of the largest palm-oil purchasers, are already demanding better practices in an industry known for clear-cutting forest and poor human rights records. Also, two of the world's largest palm oil suppliers—Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar—have made similar commitments for the palm oil they sell, which is a good thing. 

However, other fast-food companies such as Dunkin’ Brands and McDonald's, as well as the top palm-oil buyers in the personal care category such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, lack a commitment to buying palm oil that is traceable, deforestation-free and peat-free.

We will continue to keep an eye on this topic and update you as more is known and discussed about sutainably-sourced palm oil. Though it's not getting as much attention as some other better-known causes of deforestation, this is clearly an issue we all need to be aware of.

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