This Superfood Is Literally Destroying Lives and the Planet

palm oil bad
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Take a look at the items in your pantry. These items tend to be packaged products; baked goods, snack crackers, and bars. 50% of these items are made with an ingredient responsible for the destruction of rainforests, human rights abuses, and a global health crisis. This ingredient is palm oil.

Derived from the oil palm tree, palm oil is an incredibly versatile vegetable oil found in a large grouping of food products (think processed and fried), biofuel, and household goods like cosmetics and detergents, and, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, it is the most efficient oil-bearing crop across the globe. Demand for it has reached an all-time peak.

Benefits of Palm Oil

Palm oil offers health benefits in the form of antioxidants, phospholipids, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, to name a few. It can remain a liquid when processed, be a substitute for butter in baking recipes, and offers a neutral taste to consumers. Because of palm oil’s high yield, it’s highly sought after by food companies and 85% of it is produced purely to be used in food.

Sounds like good news, right? Well, the dark side of this productive “super food” oil is that the way it’s typically produced is literally ruining the planet.

Palm oil is touted for being a productive crop, producing a greater yield at a lower production cost than other oils. For instance, soybeans require ten times as much land as oil palms to produce one ton of oil. But what these palm oil powers that be have chosen to do is destroy precious rainforests to achieve an optimal “grow climate” for their fruit.

The Harmful Global Impact of Palm Oil Plantations

The majority of palm oil plantations are found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia currently produce 90% of the world’s supply of palm oil, also leading the way in the destruction of tropical forests. At this rate, all of Indonesia’s natural rainforests are threatened to be completely destroyed by 2022. Current estimates say that, per hour, an area of rainforest equivalent to 300 yards is cleared to make room for a monoculture of palm oil trees. This clearing eradicates land for already threatened and endangered animal populations like orangutans, rhinoceros, and tigers. The rainforest is most commonly burned to the ground, pushing large measurements of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and pouring smoke into local villages.

On top of contributing highly to greenhouse gas emissions, the oil palm industry also pumps 2.5 metric tons of polluted waste into surrounding bodies of water for every metric ton of palm oil produced.

Oil palm manufacturers have cut corners to keep up with demand. Economies local to oil palm plantations supply field workers who are paid menial wages if they’re paid at all. The majority of these workers are children and the work they do is grueling. There are also industry reports of forced and slave labor in the palm oil fields. As reported by the International Land Coalition, palm oil manufacturers are known to steal large portions of land belonging to the indigenous populations to grow the palms. It has become a global health crisis.