Palm oil is a saturated vegetable fat found in many processed foods and household products. As vegans, we scrutinize labels to isolate animal ingredients but we give palm oil a pass – because it’s vegan. Or is it?
The palm industry has taken over Borneo and Sumatra, clearing rainforests and important habitat for orangutans. Each year, an estimated 3,000 orangutans (out of a population of only 50,000) are killed by the palm industry. Aside from destroying the homes of these endangered great apes, the palm industry is relentlessly going after the orangutans and purposely killing them.
I heard an interview on Animal Voices (Toronto) with Helen Buckland of the Sumatran Orangutan Society where she talks about plantation owners telling their workers to bring back the heads of any orangutan they encounter. The interview can be heard here.
Yes, this is really bad. But as a vegan who loves my Earth Balance and Dr. Bronner’s bar soap. I wasn’t ready to give up the products that make me so happy. So I set out like a concerned consumer in serious denial, to find my “ethical” palm oil.
My search for environmentally friendly palm oil, landed on RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil). RSPO runs a certification program that claims to “meet the world’s most stringent criteria for sustainable production.” This sounds great, except for one problem. Under RSPO, the palm industry is clearing more rainforest than ever and they are doing it legally because the government in charge of these areas really don’t care about rainforests being cleared. Furthermore, an RSPO certified company can subcontract all the dirty work out to other companies and claim no responsibility for any “unsustainable” activity. So in the end, any certified “sustainable” palm oil is still as bad for the orangutans as any other.
In my research I also came across COP (Centre for Oranguatan Protection), a wonderful grassroots organization on the ground saving the orangutans in Indonesia. I learned a lot about the struggle of orangutans by reading their blog here.
I’m over my denial now. I’ve officially given up palm oil and it actually is not that hard! Being vegan, I already read labels like nobody’s business. Now I’ve just added palm oil to the list of ingredients to avoid.