When Reality is Too Political: Our View on Iceland’s Palm Oil Ad Debate
Iceland recently launched, in partnership with Greenpeace, a cartoon advertising to raise awareness on the damage caused globally by palm oil. In the Ad, a child finds an Orangutan in her room, who tells the story of how he was forced to flee its native forests, where, to create new palm oil plantations, humans are destroying the local habitat. You won't be able to see this ad on TV, as Clearcast, the body in charge of assessing advertising's compliance with the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising, banned the ad, deemed 'too political'. But is that of palm oil really a politically issue?
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is an edible oil derived from the palm fruit. Oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) are originally from Western Africa, and have been imported into South East Asia at the beginning of the 20th century, where they have flourished thanks to heat and frequent rainfalls. Today, Oil Palms are cultivated in most tropical regions of the world, but around 85% of all palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia .
Is the Debate on Palm Oil a Political One?
In short, no. The debate on the damages created by intensive palm oil farming is no way a political one, but rather, it is based on plain facts. For years, intensive disinformation campaigns have been conducted by the palm oil industry, arguing that palm expansion does not threaten biodiversity because land is converted from rubber, cocoa and coconut cultivations (Koh and Wilcove, 2009), trying to convince the public that the debate is a largely politicised one. Yet, empirical evidence contradicts these claims.
For example, Koh and Wilcove (2008) found that in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's largest palm oil producers, nearly 60% of palm oil plantations development was at the expenses of forests. In Indonesia alone, between 2000–2010, oil palm development accounted for the loss of 4,744 ha of mangrove, 383,518 ha of peat swamp forest, 289,406 ha of lowland forest, and 1,000 ha of lower montane forest (Lee et al, 2013). Averaging the data from the whole of South East Asia, it emerges 45% of Palm Oil plantations were created through deforestation (Vijay et al, 2016)
Forest coverage loss is destroying the habitat of endangered wildlife, such as the Orangutan and the Sumatran tiger (Lee et al, 2009). In addition, biodiversity loss is only one side of the problem. Peatland forests are systematically burned to create room for palm oil plantations, creating a phenomenon known as Haze, with detrimental effects on air quality - a well-known case is that of Singapore, which often suffers from Indonesian haze. Moreover, Abood et al (2014) find that through deforestation and fires, the palm oil industry is the largest single GHG emitter in Indonesia.
Lastly, in Indonesia alone an estimated 60 to 90 million people rely on forests for their livelihoods, which makes palm oil induced deforestation a significant human-rights problem . A comprehensive report by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch and LifeMosaic (2008), revealed, through interviews with individuals on the ground, gross human rights violations associated with the palm oil industry. The civil, political, economic, social and cultural impacts of palm oil plantations are often neglected, but are nonetheless major.
Our View on Using Palm Oil
At Zero Waste Path, we have never used, and we will never use palm oil. We have decided to not use sustainably certified palm oil either, for as long as the demand for palm oil will be so overwhelming and its use so common, it won't be possible to satisfy it sustainably.
Generally speaking, palm oil is and will continue to be a key oil in the supply chain, particularly thanks to its large yields in comparison with other vegetable oils. We want to argue, however, that to make its consumption sustainable, it is important to:
- Avoid the use of palm oil or its substitutes whenever possible (e.g. buying 100% peanut butter as opposed to one with oil in it). Doing so we'll reduce global demand for vegetable oils in products that don't need them
- Substitute the use of palm oil whenever this is possible and easily available, with a mixture of different vegetable oils in order to avoid recreating the same monoculture issue around a different product
- When neither substitution nor elimination of palm oil from the supply chain are realistic options (which isn't the case for soap!), choose sustainably sourced palm oil (RSPO certified and possibly Organic).
In our case, we have tried to strike a balance between creating products with very few ingredients to help people with allergies, while also creating products that have a greater variety of vegetable oils to avoid overconsumption.
How to Avoid Palm Oil: Most Common Names
In practice, avoiding palm oil may not be easy, as it tends to hide in quite a few places thanks to its multiple names. To help you with this, we have drawn a list of the most common names of palm oil derived ingredients.
PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate (NOTE: Vitamin A Palmitate is a very common ingredient in breakfast cereals and we have confirmed 100% of the samples we’ve investigated to be derived from palm oil)
Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
Chemicals which contain palm oil
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
Hydrated palm glycerides
Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
All in all, we find Clearcast's decision to ban Iceland's ad on the effects of palm oil very controversial. Defining that of palm oil as a political problem bears the risk of trivialising and politicising a debate with no political traits. The effects of palm oil on forest coverage, biodiversity and human rights are devastating, and this is evident from the relevant scientific literature. Rather than hiding our heads in the sand, we should be ready to face the facts, and to find solutions to the problem without looking the other way.
References- Abood, S.A. et al., 2015. Relative Contributions of the Logging, Fiber, Oil Palm, and Mining Industries to Forest Loss in Indonesia. Conservation Letters.
- Friends of the Earth et al., 2008. Losing Ground The human rights impacts of oil palm plantation expansion in Indonesia. Available at: https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/losingground.pdf
- Koh, L.P. & Wilcove, D.S., 2008. Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Conservation
- Koh, L.P. & Wilcove, D.S., 2009. Oil palm: disinformation enables deforestation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
- Lee, J.S.H. et al., 2014. Environmental impacts of large-scale oil palm enterprises exceed that of smallholdings in Indonesia. Conservation Letters.
-Meijaard, E. et al., 2017. An impact analysis of RSPO certification on Borneo forest cover and orangutan populations
- Tan, K.T. et al., 2009. Palm oil: Addressing issues and towards sustainable development. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.
- Vijay, V. et al., 2016. The Impacts of Oil Palm on Recent Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss. PloS one.