Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is derived from palm fruits, which are widely found in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Oil palm trees are a very important natural resource and palm oil is one of the staple consumable products of the 21st century. Since palm oil is obtained from trees, it is usually considered to be a vegan product.
However, people have since argued that the production of palm oil is not a sustainable and ethical affair. Since the cultivation of oil palm trees is linked to deforestation and carbon emissions, is palm oil vegan for real?
How Is Palm Oil Made?
Palm oil comes from oil palm trees. Oil Palm trees are common vegetation that can be found in a lot of South and East Asian countries. Oil Palm is a very common aspect of the flora of Indonesia and Malaysia.
It is a very stable oil that remains in a semi-solid state at room temperature, which is why it has a lot of uses in the food and beverage industry.
The palm oil industry flourishes because palm oil is present in at least 50% of all the products that you can find in an average supermarket.
The History of Palm Oil
Palm oil has been a staple product that has been produced and used for more than 5000 years. In fact, it was prepared and exported from Malaysia and Indonesia for a very long time. Human society has been using palm oil since the times of the ancient Egyptians.
In the 1800s, archaeologists found evidence of palm oil in an ancient Egyptian tomb in the lost city of Abydos.
Did you know that 85% of global palm oil production takes place exclusively in Indonesia and Malaysia? Both these economies have become dependent on palm fruit oil crops.
Why Is Palm Oil Such An Important Crop?
There are many reasons why the palm oil industry is so important. First of all, palm oil production is a very easy process and it is way more efficient compared to the extraction process of its counterpart/substitute products. Palm oil trees can bear fruit all year round, making the production of palm oil a very easy affair.
The plant is also a very efficient species – bearing from than 10 tons of fruit per hectare on an annual basis. The by products of palm oil are very useful and can be used for other purposes as well.
Secondly, palm oil production is the driving force behind the economy of the entire consumer product industry. It is used widely in personal care products, cosmetics, food items and more. It is used as animal feed and can also be used to make biofuel, which reduces the negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment.
The palm tree also bears fruit that is used in the pharmaceutical industry. To meet the global demand for palm oil, a huge number of palm oil plantations have been set up all over South East Asia. It is also known commercially as glyceryl/stearate.
Why Is Palm Oil Not Vegan?
Palm oil is a huge bone of contention in the vegan community. Many vegans believe that palm oil and products that contain palm oil cannot be considered vegan.
Palm oil plantations that have been set up in recent years have contributed to mass deforestation. This large-scale deforestation has had a negative impact on the biodiversity and habitats of many animals.
Huge swathes of rainforest have been cleared out to set up plantations, and orangutans are one of the species that have been affected the worst by this kind of mass environmental deforestation.
This callous action by many companies has raised concerns in the global vegan community. They have said that palm oil is not vegan because the product is not “cruelty-free”. The habitats of many animals such as the orangutans have been completely destroyed due to the environmental damage that is being done by palm oil companies.
That is why many vegan producers are trying to make the switch from palm oil to other sustainable products. Vegan producers of items such as vegan ice cream are now making use of agave and coconut syrup as an emulsifier for their desserts.
Effects of Palm Oil Industry On The Orangutan Population
In the areas of Borneo and Sumatra, palm oil production is proving to be a serious extinction threat for orangutans. Their populations have faced a serious threat due to logging, poaching, illegal timber estates, etc. From 1990, the global orangutan populace has reduced to 50,000.
Many vegans believe that plant-based alternatives to palm oil need to become up with ASAP. Vegan products and vegan food producers also need to stop using palm oil and instead try to use alternatives that do not harm any animal and the environment.
The Rise of Sustainable Palm Oil
If palm oil in vegan products need to be used, then sustainable oil has to be used. The RSPO or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is one of the key global organizations that is work to increase awareness about palm oil and environmental issues.
Vegans and non-vegan people alike need to recognize the need to move away from animal products that are not cruelty-free. Instead, support needs to be given to organizations like the RSPO and the POIG.
Is sustainable palm oil vegan? Yes, if the production of palm oil is done in a sustainable and cruelty-free manner, then palm oil in vegan products would be a very good idea indeed.
Vegans all over the world are campaigning for more awareness about the negative impact of palm oil plantations and the destruction that they cause to orangutan populations from all over the world.
Veganism is a natural and ethical movement that humans should flock to. The world’s a very large place and we need to search for plant-based sustainable palm oil that’s good for the world.
Simply put, it is better to avoid palm oil when you have alternatives available.
Lastly, efforts need to be made so that sustainable palm oil can soon become a reality instead of a far-off pipe dream. In a few years, vegan palm oil is going to become a reality as well.