What’s palm oil production costing the environment?

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    Grown throughout the tropics, palm oil is made from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm and has come under fire for being a bad actor in terms of the environment.

    We all run into palm oil in hundreds of forms everyday–it’s used in our shampoo, deodorant, granola, cookies and nutella.

    Grown throughout the tropics, palm oil is made from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm and has come under fire for being a bad actor in terms of the environment.

    Calen May-Tobin, lead analyst of tropical forests at The Union of Concerned Scientists, says palm oil production has doubled in the last decade.

    “As new land is cleared to produce more and more palm oil, vast areas of tropical forest are cleared,” May-Tobin explains. “That not only destroys the biodiversity in those ecosystems but also releases a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.”

    But his goal isn’t necessarily getting companies to replace palm oil in their products with something else.

    “Palm oil in and of itself isn’t bad. Replacing it with any other vegetable oil, you would end up having to use a lot more land,” says May-Tobin. “What’s more important than replacing palm oil is getting the companies that produce or use palm oil to commit to deforestation-free practices.”

    Despite the sourcing of palm oil from deforestation free suppliers becoming more popular, he adds, some big companies like Wendy’s and Burger King still maintain weak policies.

    So how do we know if we’re buying a product with palm oil that has come from a good supplier?

    “That’s pretty tricky from a consumer standpoint. You would have to be able to trace all of the ingredients in your shampoo or your deodorant back to the source,” May-Tobin says. “It really falls to the companies that make these products to guarantee to their consumers that the products that they love and use everyday aren’t contributing to deforestation.”

    Recently, the ecology minister of France called for a boycott of Nutella because palm oil is an ingredient.

    But May-Tobin says boycotts aren’t necessarily the most effective way to get a company listening.

    “From my understanding the company that makes Nutella actually has a fairly good deforestation-free policy and really when it comes down to it, we don’t think that boycotting a product is the answer. These companies really respond to their consumers in a positive way.”

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