(Source: nirapai boonpheng/Shutterstock.com)

Palm Oil Misunderstandings & Palm Done Right

by | September 11, 2019

This article was written by Monique van Wijnbergen and released in partnership with Palm Done Right.

Palm oil is an ingredient as widespread as it is controversial. Found in products like food, cosmetics, shampoo and even detergent, this stuff is a hot topic among those concerned with the environment, animal welfare, and food justice.

While it’s true that the irresponsible farming and production of palm, most commonly found in places like Southeast Asia, has led to the devastation of natural habitats and wildlife, that’s not the full story.  

Palm Done Right is a mission-based educational platform dedicated to proving that there are positive solutions to this problem. This is the first in a three-part series that takes a closer look at issues and misunderstandings around the product’s production and a deep dive into the best routes to possible change.

Palm Oil Plantation
A large-scale plantation (Source: nelzajamal/Shutterstock.com)

Palm Oil: A Misunderstood Crop

Due to a large degree of media attention on the bad pratices in Southeast Asia there is a common misconception that there is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. In fact, an article in The Independent made such a claim when referring to palm growing in Southeast Asia. However, Latin America, a burgeoning palm-producing region with a very different approach to growth, was not included in the research. 

The ongoing discussion focuses on shortcomings around certification standards — specifically, lack of consensus over what constitutes deforestation, what guidelines are used for forest protection, and whether said guidelines are sufficient and appropriately enforced. Not included in the discussion, however, are some of the great solutions cropping up in Latin America, like in Colombia, where producers signed the first national zero-deforestation agreement for palm oil. Or in Ecuador, where the Ministry of Agriculture reactivated its jurisdictional Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Certification plan, which allows entire provinces to be certified sustainable instead of individual companies and plantations.

Sustainable palm oil becomes a reality when companies (and countries) elevate standards and don’t compromise. The first step is taking the challenges facing its production seriously by eradicating the use of chemicals through 100 percent organic practices, saying no to deforestation, taking a wildlife friendly approach to palm growing, and ensuring a fair and healthy working conditions for farmers and other workers.

Palm Oil Seeds
Seeds in the hands of a worker (Source: SUWIT NGAOKAEW/Shutterstock.com)

Producing palm responsibly is baked into our DNA. It’s our mission to do it right. We work with dedicated Ecuadorian farmers who are proving every day that palm oil can be produced sustainably, through the strict adherence to organic and sustainable production practices. Our standards for organic production, empowerment and collaboration set us apart and serve as a foundation to govern our palm operations in the spirit of Palm Done Right. We stand by our commitment that these three parts are essential components of any operation and need to be provided together.  We need to empower farmers and workers in organic agriculture to bring maximum benefits to yields, livelihoods, soil and ecosystems. Without supply chain collaboration, organic production will not receive the market reward, investment, and scale crucial to its viability.  And without innovating organic production, we will not succeed in bringing quality, health, and sustainability solutions to our farmers, customers and partners.

To make and keep sustainable palm oil a reality, we need to continually seek out innovative research and partners that can help us further our mission for our farmers, workers, markets, and planet. 

soap containing palm oil
The product is commonly found in soap and cosmetics (Source: rawf8/Shutterrstock.com)

A second common misconception is that palm oil is a primary cause of deforestation. Many would even argue that boycotting it entirely is the best solution to this problem. At Palm Done Right, however, we don’t believe these perceptions are true.

While production of the product, especially in Southeast Asia, has in fact been the cause of significant environmental destruction, reports have shown that the deforestation required by animal agriculture, and the feed that sustains it, is far greater. In fact, the farming of soy, most of which is fed to livestock, is responsible for more than double the amount of deforestation as palm oil production, while livestock and beef production has led to more than five times the amount of deforestation, compared to palm oil.

What most consumers don’t realize is that replacing the controversial product with other ingredients, such as soy, doesn’t solve the issue of deforestation but actually worsens it. Palm oil is the most productive vegetable oil crop and produces at least six times more oil per hectare than its closest rivals, rapeseed, and soy. Because land is one of the most limited resources on our overcrowded planet, switching to an oil crop that takes up so much more land is likely to cause even greater environmental damage

Educating consumers to look for sustainable options, such as those made using 100 percent organic practices, is critical to making positive change.  We need to start showcasing the great solutions that already exist, for instance in those in Latin America.

Stay tuned for our next post where we will further explore the topic of deforestation and why organic crops are the better choice for our planet. 

(Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, spokesperson for Palm Done Right)

Palm Done Right was developed as a platform to educate and engage consumers, brands, businesses and retailers about the positive side of palm oil.  The Palm Done Right platform aims to provide information about palm oil and its solutions, to prove it can be grown for good. To receive our monthly email with information, advancements and stories from the field, please visit ​www.palmdoneright.com​ and sign up for our newsletter.

*While Palm Done Right has experienced the RSPO standard to be a solid certification standard, training and certifying our suppliers according to the standard since 2013, the RSPO, since its start, has been questioned as a concrete means to stop forest degradation and the loss of biodiversity.

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