Palm Oil’s disclosed impact on the food industry

Palm oil is an ingredient frequently used in a variety of commercial goods, including food and cosmetic products such as bread, soap and chocolate, that are ubiquitous in department stores. However, like many other additives or ingredients, palm oil’s affects on the environment and the human body are concerning. 

Palm oil itself is derived from tropical rainforests, primarily in developing countries, and provides benefits to corporations and farmers who harvest the product. Palm oil is a low maintenance crop that does not require much investment, while still having a high yield and therefore market value. 

While this seems solely positive on the surface, the environmental costs associated with palm oil may outweigh these perceived advantages. When tropical rainforests are converted into palm oil plantations, vegetation needs to be cleared. In order to do this, large numbers of trees are burned, which causes deforestation and air pollution. This worsens global climate change, global warming and habitat destruction. The smoke released from clearing vegetation can adversely affect individuals living near palm oil plantations and causes numerous diseases, including Asthma, Leukemia and Lung Cancer. 

As mentioned earlier, habitats are destroyed during vegetation clearing. Vegetation clearing, also referred to in this instance as slashing-and-burning, destroys rainforest habitats that host an array of species. Many destroyed habitats previously hosted endangered species, which experience grave impacts from habitat destruction. A direct consequence of this destruction is habitat fragmentation, when animals are separated from other animals of the same species, and are crowded into small spaces. This can worsen endangerment through disease and inbreeding. 

Palm oil can adversely affect the health of humans in multiple ways. Vegetation clearing causes erosion, increasing the chances of flooding in areas where palm oil plantations are present. This directly impacts the residents of those areas. Palm oil is high in saturated fats, which are known to cause a buildup of cholesterol. Over time, this can lead to heart attacks.  

Removing palm oil all together from pantry shelves is a task that requires a lot of research on product substitutes, and can be both quite expensive and time consuming. However, there are some realistic alternatives to using palm oil, including the use of canola and sunflower seed oil. Canola and sunflower seed oil’s harvesting practices are far less detrimental to the environment than palm oil’s. Coconut oil is another alternative to palm oil, because of its inexpensive price point and use in both food and beauty products. LUSH is a company found in shopping malls that sells palm-oil-free shampoos, conditioners, and other cleansers. Nivea is a drug store brand that also sells products of the same nature that are free of palm oil. Dave’s Killer Bread and Hershey’s Chocolate sell food items free of palm oil that are generally found in grocery stores. Any product containing palm oil that is not purchased contributes to a more sustainable market, and reduces the demand for palm oil.