If I had the money, I would buy every palm oil plantation and do nothing. I’d give the problem to Mother Nature and let her fix it….but I don’t
As promised, some info re palm oil. I realize this is long, because I have a lot to say about it. However it is actually quite concise compared to how much I could say. There is so much more to it than what I have writren here. Even if you don’t like orangutans , that’s fine, you don’t even have to like trees or nature at all. But if you like to BREATHE, this concerns you! or if you like people and hate human rights violations, read up.
And if all the words make you dizzy, at least check some of the links posted throughout for helpful info, such as other names for palm oil on food labels etc. Get comfy and read on…
The 3 things that disturb me most in life are 1. cruelty to animals and nature 2. Litter and pollution 3. palm oil
And it turns out, #3 causes #1 & #2 in bucketloads. It’s all related.
Thinking about these three things stresses me out. It makes me feel ill. I wish I could sue the people who cause my mental distress over these things. But what can you do? Palm oil may not be a concern at all for most people,they just don’t care. Others may care but are completely in the dark about what is going on, and others, they are infuriated and wanting to do something about it. Although, wanting to do something about it is what I’d definitely call a David and Goliath battle, especially considering all that damage that has already been done that is likely irreversible in anyone’s lifetime. And for those in the dark about what’s going on, well that’s exactly how the corporations who have been feeding it to you for years want it. You have likely become reliant on palm oil without even knowing.
For years I have tried to educate myself on this issue as much as possible. I have researched the whole palm oil process, from seedling to shoving it down your pie hole as an oreo cookie or washing your face with it. I want to know EVERYTHING, right down to the nitty gritty of how to start a palm oil plantation, the reasoning for the 9m triangular row spacing of the plants, the various species of palm oil tree, the production rates, everything. I want to know as much about palm oil as I do about orangutans. I am obsessed. I think if I wanted to start a plantation I could. But I don’t, I want them all to die.
palm-oil seedling farm
There is a lot of information out there, I do not need to regurgitate all of it here. If people want to understand the problem, the information is out there, and if you are interested, I recommend really reading up on it.
but I do want to share my points and breakdown of the problem with palm oil as I see it:
1. Palm oil is a cheap, easily produced oil extracted from the palm kernel, and used in a plethora of processed food, cosmetic and cleaning products. The average grocery store has palm oil in 50%+ of the products on the shelves.
2.As food companies try to move away from ‘TRANS FATS’, palm oil is becoming even more attractive as a replacement. The new FDA plan to ban all trans fat sounds good but is very worrisome for palm-oil opponents.
3. Palm oil is at the heart of the ‘bio-fuel’ push (yet there is nothing ‘bio’ about it)
4. It grows in hot, humid areas with large yearly rainfalls in the equatorial regions around the world through africa, asia and south america, but most is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. The equatorial regions are home to the worlds tropical jungles, the world’s lungs, and countless amazing species of plants and animals.
5. When palm oil companies start a new plantation, they prefer virgin jungle (as opposed to land that has already been cleared) because then they are able to chop down and sell the expensive hardwood trees they now ‘own’. Shipped overseas, these trees are worth thousands and thousands of dollars a piece to make expensive furniture, and all kinds of stuff for our nice houses.
6. Once the sellable wood is removed, everything else is bulldozed and chopped and set on fire. This is a MAJOR contributor to greenhouse gas. The carbon pollution released into the atmosphere is horrific. When the winds go the ‘wrong’ way, you get Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. arguing with each other over who started the fires because people can’t breathe. And for the villages immediately adjacent to the burning, it can be life-threatening. These are massive huge-scale fires that give of so much smoke they are tracked by global weather satellites as though they were major storms. And not only do these fires directly affect breathing ability in the nearby countries, but they also push more pollution in the air and ruin the air quality for everyone while helping the earth continue to warm at accelerated rates. The world cannot afford to have smokey lungs, we all depend on them!
7.In the meantime, while the jungle burns, we cannot forget there were a bunch of animals living in there. Sometimes they are pushed further into remaining jungle, but often the jungle is cut in a circle from the outside in and animals end up getting trapped. They burn, starve to death trapped in an area too small to survive, if they escape with no jungle left they get shot stealing from homes or other plantations, or if not shot, captured and kept, or sold for pets, or sometimes fates much worse. This is how orangutans have ended up so critically endangered.
8. No area is safe from palm-oil development. Palm oil is big money, and this is a developing country of people who are poorly educated and run by corruption at all levels. Leaders have no thought of future plans or benefits of healthy environments, ‘money now, at any cost’ is the motto. And who fuels this industry? the big corporations that feed you your snack foods, sell you your soaps, and tell you what to buy to clean your house perfectly. Alot of it even comes with environmentally friendly labelling claims.
9. Orangutans need vast areas, they spend most of their time solitary or mom with baby. They cover vast space over a year, they cannot live in a small forest. They are also slow to reproduce because the babies usually stay with their moms for about 6 years. So one female will likely have 4 maybe 5 babies in a lifetime. But they are being killed off at a much faster rate. Babies have some value, so when there is a confrontation, the mother is usually killed and the baby taken for sale or for a pet. This never turns out well for the baby.
There are a number of organizations working to rescue the babies or adults that have been injured and give them a chance at a life in the wild again, but some organizations end up with so many orangutans and no where to put them. Some can spend years living in accommodations not much better than a zoo. And as much as people can try to teach them how to be wild orangutans again, once they go through all this trauma, and have human moms as their teachers, they are never again really ‘wild’. Although, there are successes with the rehabilitated orangutans, many have had the opportunity to live in the wild again, they are not so ‘wild’ but at least their eventual babies are. Their babies always have the natural instinct to stay away from people. But for many rescued oeangutans, they will never live wild in the jungle again. Space in wild jungle is running out, thanks mostly to the development of palm oil plantations that destroys jungle at an alarming rate. Not only that, populations are being isolated in the remaining forest pockets, and this cutoff is also a huge threat to the needed genetic diversity required to keep populations healthy.
10. Orangutans are the poster-species for what’s wrong with palm oil, but they are not alone. Elephants, tigers, gibbons, rhinos (it’s still not clear if there are actually any left at this point) down to the smallest jungle insects are threatened. And not just animals, the jungles are full of amazing plants, many not yet discovered. The medicines and remedies local people know about taken from the jungles are amazing, and we just destroy it all for unhealthy snack foods and chemical cleaners.
11. Once everything is burned, the super nutrient-rich jungle peat that has formed over lifetimes, left completely scorched and devoid of anything alive, is ready for palm oil!
12. There is a real magic to the plantations. If you are flying over a plantation for the first time, you might look out your window and smile at how lush and green everything looks. But as you continue looking, you will see that something is not ‘natural’. Every tree is the same, often for as far as you can see, lined up perfectly, with perfect roads sectioning off blocks of rows, all laid out perfectly. Everything the same height and size and colour. You might think, well, at least it’s green, so it can’t be that bad for the environment, right? Maybe some animals died, but a tree is a tree, right? We’ve just replaced the jungle with these trees, and now they are our lungs, right? wrong.
This is jungle:
This is palm oil:
How much carbon recycling has been lost? Jungles are dense with life at all levels. Palm plantations are spacious, in exact 9m triangles between trees for the most efficient production. The leaves are only at the top. The difference is staggering. The only other life are the weedy grasses and palm ferns that cling on.
13. Palm oil trees are massive and need a lot of space for maximum production. There are different varieties, but in Indonesia a much stalkier build is used than what you often see in Malaysia. They produce quickly and frequently. Their fruit is so abundant, if it was a useable crop as a food product, it would have some benefit. But you can’t eat palm oil kernels. Monkeys don’t even want to eat them. It must be processed, in a factory, into oil.
Juvenile palm, kernels only a few feet off the ground. You can see the volume in this one tree alone, harvested one to two times per week!
14. Even if monkeys would eat palm-oil kernels, they’d be shot or captured for stealing. Plus, Orangutans and larger monkeys like gibbons cannot move through a palm oil plantation. They require branches that can hold their weight and trees close enough together to swing from branch to branch. Orangutans are very heavy and need trees that will bend, so they sway the trees and move through the jungle like that. Truly wild orangutans never need to touch the ground! But palm oil tree branches are only fronds with no strength and the trees don’t sway, plus they are too far apart to reach the next tree from the trunk. Wild apes and monkeys could never live in a plantation.
15. Palm oil plantations are huge producers, standing in a plantation you can almost hear it growing. But really the plantation is dead. In fact, I always have the feeling that the plantations are haunted. There is a depressing energy, a spooky feeling. I can’t help but think it’s life that was there wanting to come back but it can’t, and the sad souls of all the animals that used to live there.
16. Chemicals equivalent to Round-Up are used to make sure any competition for water and the few nutrients left, are killed, (only the palm oil can live) and heavy doses of chemical fertilizers are used for the super-natural yield rates. There is one species of bird that likes to sit along the electrical wires outside the plantations. And there are some insects in the plantations. But animals don’t want to eat palm oil kernels. You might see the occassional macaque running through a plantation with a bag of chips, but other than that, it’s dead except for the cows allowed to graze on the grass and weeds that still survive the chemicals. I can only imagine the toxicity levels of beef here.
17.Workers on plantations, which of course has been shown to include children, don’t have much safety gear. The work is quite dangerous. Spraying the chemicals is completely unsafe with no masks. And harvesting the kernel clusters, especially once the tree gets very tall, is backbreaking dangerous work. They have to do it with super-long handled machete-type poles, many meters long to cut off the lowest fronds and then stab and jab off the kernel clusters from the top of the tree and let them drop to the ground. They are cut off from many meters above ground, if you do not get out of the way, it will be a serious injury.
18.on a side note, in Indonesia alone there were over 5000 human rights abuses recorded due to plantations last year alone, including over 20 deaths and numerous serious injuries. This also includes abuses against employees as well as surrounding villagers who protest the plantations. Slowly people are learning the clearcuts cause horrible landslides and floods for the surrounding villages. This country gets enough disasters, and these irresponsible man-made ones are created without a second thought.
19. After the palm clusters have been hacked off the trees, they are carried to the roadways and loaded on trucks (all also backbreaking work) and taken to the palm-oil processing mill. In palm-oil regions, palm oil trucks are a normal, constant source of traffic. The parade is non-stop. There are the trucks that work on the large-scale plantations, a constant parade from plantation to mill, and there are those that pick up kernel clusters from roadsides where people have their own private plantations of a few trees behind their house. The trucks pull up, weigh the kernels on the spot, write the owner a ticket, and he collects his money from the palm oil company. These smaller personal plantations are not as bad, shearly because they are small! but even they are eventually being taken over by the big companies. And not just personal palm oil, anything. Whole villages that may have once specialized in cocoa or fruit plantations will be taken over by palm-oil companies and everyone is forced to work on palm oil.
colection from a private plantation on the roadside
Palm oil truck parade from large-scale Turangie plantation
20. there is something called RSPO (round table for sustainable palm oil), which provides certificates for companies who want to do good by producing only sustainable palm-oil, which means they did not clear new forest and they are environmentally responsible. Do NOT fall for this. the RSPO is a joke. The idea of course is somewhat good, but it doesn’t work. this is Indonesia. If you want a ‘eco’ certificate, you just buy it. There is no such thing, in my opinion, as sustainable palm oil. Even for a company to start a plantation on already destroyed jungle land, how is that sustainable? One company chopped it down, used it, then sold it or changed their company name to get the ‘certificate’ and we are no further ahead. I feel the only way to grow palm oil sustainably is the same way we work around clear-cutting now. Of course, this would mean only a tiny fraction of the yield, so would obviously never fly. And too much has already been cut down and lost, we can not afford losing one more tree.
21. And what about companies that actually do start plantations on already degraded land? They are the least horrible, best of the worst you could say? But again, they ALL make this claim, and yet the world is still losing something in the neighbourhood of 1.5 acres of jungle per second? mind-boggling isn’t it?
22. After the palm oil is produced, it gets shipped around the world, mostly to these folks:
The “Snack Food 20” group of companies—Campbell Soup Company; ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; Grupo Bimbo; Hillshire Brands Company; H.J. Heinz Company; Hormel Foods Corporation; Kellogg Company; Kraft Food Group, Inc.; Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Corp.; Mars Inc.; Mondelez International, Inc.; Nestlé S.A.; Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd.; PepsiCo, Inc.; The Hershey Company; The J.M. Smucker Company; Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd.; and Unilever—manufacture a wide range of popular snack foods in the United States and abroad that contain conflict palm oil. to make most of the stuff we buy at the grocery store.
Lots more helpful info here as well:
RAN Snackfood 20
Palm Oil Factories:
23. Labelling rules are different in different countries. In Canada, Palm oil must be labelled as palm oil, palm kernel oil, or palm something on food labels. (note: palm sugar is fine, completely different plant source) In many countries, such as here in Indonesia, it can be disguised as ‘vegetable oil’. So if you live in a country where palm oil can hide out as vegetable oil, you must either independantly investigate (good luck) or avoid these products as well and only go for products that actually specify the type of oil.
And for non-food products, in Canada anyway, only ingredients harmful to humans must be listed, so it can be tricky trying to figure out what’s really in your ‘eco’ friendly face soap. Here in Indonesia, most products list everything, and it’s a real eye-opener. For instance I could not find one type of soap that didn’t have palm oil (although being Asia, every single one claims to make you white! yuck…sounds super safe hey?). In Canada, I tried to get somewhwere at one point with the various government agencies responsible for labelling in Canada. As expected (yes because I’m a pessimist and if I had thought ‘positive’ this wouldn’t have happened), by the end of the run-around, frustratingly stupid responses, and no one knowing who’s responsible for what, I basically wanted to pull my hair out. some apps can help you with product lists by scanning bar codes, although I find many products in Canada are lacking inclusion in these databases. But you can try the Skin Deep or Think Dirty apps.
24. Remember, ‘eco’ and ‘bio’ and ‘green’ are only labels in Canada, they basically mean nothing. Don’t trust advertising, do your research if you want to know what you are really buying. There was a really good episode of the show Marketplace lousy labels I recommend watching re Canada’s labelling problems.
So what to do? Well, no one is stopping this anytime soon, but you can speak up with your wallet for your own peace of mind. If palm oil bothers you, start paying attention and reducing it in your life. You’ll find most of the foods it’s in are not actually good for you anyway. And as for other products, try to find out what’s actually in them. Removing all palm-oil from your life is almost impossible. We’ve been force-fed it unknowingly for so long, now it is often the only option for some products. I started reducing it by reading every food label. Everyone should do this anyway. I also started making my own cleaning products. when something ran out, I would search on-line for a homemade version. Then, I knew exactly what I was using, you can make products that actually ARE eco-friendly (like if you can eat a cleaning product and it has no palm oil – that’s eco-friendly in my book!) and they often end up being much cheaper than store-brands.
Also, I personally haven’t used shampoo or conditioner in over a year and a half. Yep, I’m so disgusting. I use a homemade coconut milk concoction and rinse with a vinegar concoction. And really I have found after leaving store shampoo in the dust, my hair only needs to be washed once or twice a week, just rinsing with water in between. Previously, I had to was everyday. I went through a few pretty greasy weeks at first, it was gross, but now my hair is much softer and my once super oily scalp is actually normal!
This site gives a good breakdown of all the names used for palm oil in products, as well as lots of other helpful info. It’s a little overwhelming, I know, I have also posted the list at the very bottom of this post:
Palm Oil names on Ingredient Lists
unfortunately, even if everyone in the west avoided palm oil, there is the fear it will only relocate the problem. Palm oil producers will simply try to shift more to other markets that don’t have the environmental conscience. And right now, there is a huge oversupply of palm oil ready for the markets, which means the prices will be dropping (while more land continues to be lost for more plantations!) and there are no shortage of asian markets that will be willing to buy it once the price is right. So, you see the problem has many tentacles.
One more thing to note. Once palm oil trees finish their production life, they are also chopped and usually burned or left to rot. They actually don’t burn well until they are long dead. Turns out, the wood of palm oil is COMPLETELY useless. It’s not strong, it’s more of a mushy soft-wood that has no viable use. If crops can be grown again, they will, but often the land is too degraded to withstand another high yield crop and eventually the area is left barren and starts to turn white from salt crystallization. Bring on the deserts!
Death of a palm plantation:
In closing, I should point out that indiscriminant burning by palm oil companies is now actually illegal. however, ‘natural’ fires caused by nature are not. Palm oil companies of course still burn, this is the easiest way to clear the ‘rubbish’. They will claim accidents from lightening, or get a neighbouring farmer to set his land on fire and blame him for spreading the fire, etc. There is currently a huge decision coming down in Aceh province which, if successful, should hopefully set a precedent for at least punishing those who still burn. But we shall see. The company, PT Kalista, is definitely sweating as they no less than forced their hundreds of workers to cause a raucous protest outside the courthouse. I don’t know if anyone is buying it, but apparently one of Indonesia’s specially designated ‘environment’ specialist judges is on the decision, and it’s his first eco case, so we will see if there will be some success. Basically, if the plantation loses (for setting illegal fires they blamed on outside sources, in the extremely biodiverse, ‘protected’ Tripa Peat Forest of Gunung Leuser (The area I’m in is located at the southern end of Gunung Leuser) they may face prison time and be required to pay all expenses to return the land to it’s original state. Well, I don’t think that’s possible?? but if nothing else it would be fun to watch them watch their precious money go up in smoke also. And it may set some sort of precedent. I really recommend reading this article about it: Rent-a-mob- the Kallista case
oil palm- sawit
palm oil – minyak kelapa sawit
(literally: oil of the oil palm nut) here kelapa refers to a nut or seed, so not to be confused with coconut oil which is totally cool!
Fun fact: um there’s nothing fun about palm oil, that’s a fact
next post, back to regular programming of monkey business! selamat
30 NAMES PALM OIL CAN BE LABELLED UNDER
Foods, Body Products, Cosmetics & Cleaning Agents:-
Vegetable Oil-Vegetable Fat-Sodium Laureth Sulfate (in almost everything that foams) ^-Sodium Lauryl Sulfate ^-Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS) ^-Palm Kernel#-Palm Oil Kernel #-Palm Fruit Oil #-Palmate #-Palmitate #-Palmolein #-Glyceryl Stearate #-Stearic Acid #-Elaeis Guineensis #-Palmitic Acid #-Palm Stearine #-Palmitoyl oxostearamide #-Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3 #-Steareth -2 *-Steareth -20 *-Sodium Kernelate #-Sodium Palm Kernelate #-Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate *-Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate ^-Hyrated Palm Glycerides #-Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye ^-Cetyl Palmitate #-Octyl Palmitate #-Cetyl Alcohol ^-Palmityl Alchohol #
# These ingredients are definitely palm oil or derived from palm oil.
* These ingredients are often derived from palm oil, but could be derived from other vegetable oils.
^ These ingredients are either derived from palm oil or coconut oil.