When one goes to the supermarket to buy our foods, whether fresh, but particularly processed, we often don’t give a second thought about what some of those ingredients are. Many of us are health conscious and for instance have switched to processed foods that are more heart healthy, especially when it comes to the types of oils that are in our processed foods and are trans fat free. The list is virtually endless of the types of oils used in processed foods, the more common are, soybean, cottonseed, olive, canola, coconut, flaxseed, corn and palm oil. The first seven listed are grown in abundance from natural sources, just as palm oil is, yet there is a big difference as the first seven aren’t causing environmental damage, or risking the extinction of a species of animal the way palm oil is.
This issue was brought to my attention by a friend of mine on a discussion board that I belong to, and like many people, I wasn’t even aware of the impact the palm oil industry was causing and creating that was detrimental to the potential survival as a species that is indigenous only to Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra: the orangutan.
First one has to understand exactly what palm oil is in the first place. For centuries, palm oil was recognized and only used as a cooking oil in the West African countries, but was then later introduced to European countries, and finally to Malaysia in 1910. It was in Malaysia and consequently later Indonesia where the palm oil industry was to have the greatest impact, when the governments of both, trying to eradicate their poverty-stricken countries, that palm plantations were encouraged by the 1960s and now those two countries are the largest producers of palm oil in the world and even surpasses production of the soybean industry.(1)
To dispel some confusion here between the difference of palm oil and palm fruit (or kernel) oil, both are from the same source, that is from the oil palm tree and uses the mesocarp fruit that grows on the tree. The palm oil itself is from the more fleshy part of the fruit, while the palm fruit or kernel oil is derived from the kernel or seed.(2) Unfortunately, many people have been led to believe that since palm oil in general derives from a natural source that it’s healthy. This is far from the truth, since of all the oils used in cooking and food production, palm oil actually has the higher ratio of saturated fats. It’s almost ironic, that the American Palm Oil Website itself clearly gives facts and figures of the saturated content of palm oil. It clearly states that palm oil, while the less saturated in fat, does nonetheless contain 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated fat, while the palm fruit or kernel oil contains a staggering 82% saturated fat. (3) In comparison soybean oil is virtually free of saturated fat with only a total of 14% (4) From reading these statistics, therefore, in connection with a health viewpoint, palm oil is not the wisest choice in oils due to its higher saturated fat content.
What is Palm Oil Used In?
In a word, everything. If one wants to look at the listings of food and non-food items that use palm oil as an ingredient one can go to the Palm Oil Products Website which have further links to specific brands of foods and non-foods and the list is staggering. For food items in general, most processed breads, margarines, cookies, frozen dinners, popcorn, beverages and other snacks have palm oil and many processed chocolate candies have the higher saturated fat version of palm oil, that is palm kernel oil. The list found on the website includes many of the foods processed by ConAgra Foods, Heinz, Quaker, Russell Stover and Pepperidge Farms, just to name a scant few. For the non-food items, palm oil can be found in most soaps, detergents, cleaners and cosmetics.
I’ve already raised the issue that palm oil is probably not the wisest choice of oils to be used in especially food products, due to its higher saturated fat content, however, there is even a better reason for being against the whole palm oil industry, and that is due to the fact that it is not only damaging the natural environment of Malaysia and Indonesia, but is also threatening the very survival of not only the orangutan but other rare and endangered species of animals indigenous to only those countries.
For many decades, people have been aware of the damaging effects and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Many of the rarest species of flora and fauna that exist only in this area have become extinct over the years, and yet the deforestation of the rainforest still continues at an alarming rate. Deaths have even occurred when companies battled to gain land belonging to Native tribes for the purposes of clearing land for oil drilling and as recently as June 9, 2009 there is a report where twenty-two Native peoples were killed by Peruvian police.(5) While more people are aware of the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, few know about the destruction of land in the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia for the purposes of expanding palm plantations to continue growing the oil palm and for the production of the world’s supply of palm oil. Also, besides the destroying of the land for palm oil plantations, the land is being cleared away for logging for paper production as well.
It isn’t only the orangutan that is being threatened with possible extinction, but according to the Palm Oil PDF six other speices of animals are endangered including the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran
rhinoceros, and Asian elephant and another 41 are threatened as well. (6) What is also alarming, is that the natural forested rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia are being completely destroyed much faster than in all the years combined of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and also in effect creating a faster greenhouse effect in our environment, a major factor in the global warming issue.
I have become more aware of what I buy now and have switched which products I’m using. I refuse to buy any food that has palm oil in it as it is not by any means the healthier alternative of oils that are used for processed foods. I also switched which health and beauty items I buy, including the types of detergents I use as I don’t wish to be a contributor to not only destroying the rainforests for the purpose of palm oil production, but also threatening several species of animals into extinction, including and especially the much endangered orangutan.
Palm Oil PDF (6)
Palm Oil Facts (1)
American Palm Oil (2) (3)
Palm Oil Products
Palm Oil Listing
Palm Oil Studies
Palm Oil Safety
Orangutan Population In Danger
Threat to Orangutans
Amazon Rainforest (5)