Palm oil, when passed from one palm to the next—the workers who create it, the consumers who purchase it—creates a devastating chain impacting the people, the ecosystem, and the entire planet itself. While an undoubtedly widespread and profitable export, its impacts are not so fruitful; in turn, the EU’s delay of the Indonesian palm oil ban has created a threshold for further harm.
The Verdict On Palm Oil
In June of this year, the EU threw the gavel down on a monumental decision: the deferment of the Indonesian Palm Oil ban. The European Union’s revised ruling is a treacherous one at that; it would offset the ban from 2021 to 2030—but can the environment, and the people impacted by palm oil, wait that much longer?
No matter the EU’s ruling, the verdict on palm oil is indisputable: it does far more harm than good.
What Is Palm Oil, Anyway?
While the ban focuses on palm oil grown in peatland, the plant itself is a lucrative commodity. Palm oil derives from the African palm fruit and infiltrates everyday products found across far reaches of the globe. While it originates in Africa by way of the African oil palm tree, many farmers have planted its seed in Asia, South America, North America, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Palm Oil And The People
The issue of palm oil has roots far deeper than that of the environment. Countless individuals and families rely on palm oil harvesting as a source of income. Regardless of palm oil’s poor reputation and impact, natives to the trade have been threatened by outsiders, such as subsidiary companies, who usurp local industries without a second thought. Even those who own palm oil land as a means of living—such as Frans of Indonesia, who was arrested for rebelling against the seizure of his palm oil-profiting land—have been forced to cope with the theft of business and property.
Indeed, the palm oil industry is no stranger to crime and exploitation. Palm oil grown impinging on human or environmental rights or simply harvested illegally is considered Conflict Palm Oil. Used as a substitute for trans fats, it has becoming increasingly-popular among snack products. As a result, palm oil impacts not only people and ecosystems Western consumers hardly ever consider, but themselves directly, as well; unknowingly, the average consumer is contributing to the perpetuation of palm oil one purchase at a time.
As the World Wildlife Foundation claims, the two greatest influences of palm oil are forest conversion and habitat loss of endangered species. Alongside exploitation of workers, the cultivation of palm oil leads to air, soil, and water pollution; soil erosion; and shifts in the climate.
Back To The Ban
Will such a ban create an opportunity for the planet to devise an improved system of harvesting palm oil? Or shall it, perhaps, spark an initiative to stop harvesting it altogether? Time—and the state of the environment—will tell. Until then, there are steps the average consumer can take in the fight against palm oil.
Your Choices Matter
It doesn’t take a scientist or conservationist to take up arms against palm oil. The everyday choices of the informed, ordinary citizen reflects the change one wants to see in the world. Signing petitions is only a cornerstone of the movement. Locating labels on products that include palm oil or its aliases (such as “Vegetable Oil,” “Palm Kernel,” “Palm Fruit Oil,” and “Palmate”) and refusing to endorse such consumer goods is a large step to whittling palm oil down to a seed. You can find a full, comprehensive list of palm oil products—and its pseudonyms—through WWF’s website.
In the end, however, the most influential decision the world can take in regard to palm oil is the process of sustainable farming, which can be achieved through engagement with smaller organizations, along with companies at the national level. Because there are numerous ways to practice sustainable farming, it would be up to the individual to decide which method works most efficiently for each farmland region. This, coupled with wise, environmentally-conscious choices of the average consumer, could surely uproot a devastating practice.
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