EL PASO – The expanding production and use of palm oil has dire consequences for the environment, human health and rain forest wildlife according to those advocating a reduction in palm oil consumption.
Palm oil has a low trans-fat compared to vegetable oil but it is extremely high in saturated fat, which is one of the main causes for heart disease. Orangutans, Sumatran elephants, Asian elephants, the sun bear, rhinoceros, and tigers are at risk of extinction as companies expand plantations into rain forests.
Palm oil production is considered the main cause of deforestation of carbon-rich tropical peatlands, changing the forest landscape into wasteland.
“Palm oil awareness has really picked up over the past ten years, but the industry has only been around about thirty years. Palm oil has been around for thousands of years, but only as a minor product that was produced by people who knew how to use the palm oil fruit.” claims Rick LoBello, Education Curator at El Paso Zoo.
Palm oil plantations are creating massive damage to peatlands in the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia and Indonesia as these areas are being cut down to open land for plantations.
A free app created by the El Paso Zoo — Palm Oil Guide and Scanner — scans products to inform consumers whether the product they are purchasing contains palm oil. People with heart problems are advised by doctors to avoid products containing palm oil.
“It’s important to know that the World Health Organization, and the American Heart Association, and the FDA have all stated that palm oil is not healthy,” LoBello said.
Palm oil is found in many products of daily use from foods and cosmetics, to cleaning products. Products such as Listerine Mouthwash, Dove, Johnson’s Baby Products, L’Oreal, and Lysol use palm oil, but there are sustainable products that avoid it such as Mary Kay, Avon, Cover Girl, Revlon, Clinique, and Herbal Essences.
“Palm oil is a small ingredient in the U.S. diet, but more than half of all packaged products Americans consume contain palm oil—it’s found in lipstick, soaps, detergents, and even ice cream,” according to worldwildlife.org.
Some foods that contain palm oil are Ritz, Oreo’s, Frosted Flakes and others are made by companies such as Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Kraft, and Heinz.
Greenpeace.org.uk states that, “Indonesia already has 66 million hectares of oil palm plantations, but has plans for another 4 million by 2015 dedicated to biofuel production alone.”
Some of the harm being caused is deforestation, animal habitat deconstruction of species in risk of extinction, deprivation of food, water, and destruction of farms in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
“When it comes to the major animals that are being harmed because of palm oil the number of species is in no doubt in the thousands,” claims LoBello.
LoBello says that in the island of Borneo there is only 3 per cent of the original rainforest left.
Greenpeace also says that palm oils will create a bigger impact on climate change by, “clearing forests and draining and burning peatlands to grow palm oil will release more carbon emissions than burning fossil fuels.”
The El Paso Zoo is not the only local organization boycotting palm oil products. Also, Environmental Advocates is informing the local community about palm oil free products. The El Paso Zoo will be participating in the world-wide Global Day of Action, an event to encourage companies to find a sustainable replacement for palm oil.
“The other names for palm oil are numerous. There are actually 48 different names. Palm kernel oil is often used as a word to describe palm oil, palmitate is another word and then there is a whole list of scientific names,” LoBello said.
LoBello says the goals not to end the palm oil industry. “What we are trying to do is getting it to become sustainable. Which means we want palm oil only to be in products that come from plantations that have agreed to not cut down the rainforest,” he said.