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Pushing For the Use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil

August 31, 2009

You may have heard that palm oil is one of the main reasons behind deforestation in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia, in particular, supplied more than half the world’s palm oil market from 2000 – 2009 according to the Worldwatch Institute (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6059). As one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, Indonesia’s palm oil market is having devastating effects on wildlife, tropical forests, plants, marine life, and greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States alone, palm oil use has doubled over the past four years according to the World Wildlife Fund. So what is it used for? Anything and everything. Cooking oil, margarine, cosmetics, soaps, detergents, biofuels, just to name a few.

Palm Oil Plantation

Palm Oil Plantation

Forests are being cleared to plant palm oil plantations, which is detrimental enough but there is something happening that is even worse in terms of carbon emissions. Peat swamps and forests are being drained and/or burned and planted. In doing so, oxidation occurs and the amount of carbon dioxide released is greater per kilometer than in many cities. Much more information about peatlands and their carbon emissions can be found in an interesting article from the Telegraph Bog barons: Indonesia’s carbon catastrophe.

Check out this video on how the draining and planting of peatlands causes so much destruction.

So what can be done? We can promote the goals of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. They are working to establish global standards in palm oil production and to encouraging the use of products that contain sustainable palm oil. China’s Dr. Huo Jiangguo, President of China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs and Native Produce has announced support of the RSPO’s goals however general trends show that consumers worldwide have lagged behind in showing support for certified sustainable palm oil. 

The Wall Street Journal reported, 

Although the combined annual production capacity of RSPO-certified producers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea exceeded 1.57 million tons of certified palm oil and palm-kernel oil at the end of May, only 15,000 tons of certified oil has been sold since certification started late last year.

‘At the moment, demand for certified palm oil is only 1% of the [produced] volume, so this has been disappointing for the growers and we feel the food companies should keep their end of the promise,’ said Lee Yeow Chor, executive director of Malaysia’s second-largest palm oil producer, IOI Corp. Bhd.

So as consumers, we need to be more aware. We need to fight to eliminate the use of peatlands for plantations so we can restore the water table, maintain biodiversity, and eliminate CO2 emissions. And when palm oil is used, advocate for the use of certified sustainable palm oil. It is already in production, but the major food companies that use palm oil need a push. We ought to encourage this sustainability effort all the way from the plantations in tropics to our dinner tables. 

 

image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oil_palm_plantation_in_Cigudeg-04.jpg

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