Palm oil is something I’ve read about recently. Apparently it’s in everything. Food products, cosmetics, soaps and detergents. Everything. It’s one of the main ingredients in biofuel. When people are talking about problems with biofuel, it’s really the problem with palm oil. Why is it bad? Well, rainforests are hotspots of biodiversity. They house thousands of different kinds of species. When the trees are cut down those species lose their homes. The loss of shelter often causes those species to go extinct. Not only do we have the animals to worry about, but we have our health to take into account. The trees filter huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
Agribusiness companies are rapidly expanding fuel crop plantations into the Amazon Rainforest and other diverse tropical ecosystems throughout South America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Africa. Palm oil expansion is the primary cause of deforestation in Indonesia, where forests are disappearing at a rate of more than 2.8 million hectares a year.
Industrial agrofuel production requires dedicating huge swaths of land to fuel production and drives up the price of basic food crops as food production competes against fuel production for land, water, and market resources. This land that people claim we don’t have enough room for grass-fed beef, windmill farms, or actual fruits and vegetables that aren’t corn or soy.
- Even if all cropland in the U.S. were used to grow corn and all the corn were used to make ethanol, we would not produce enough ethanol to replace our over-consumption of gasoline.
- Every ton of palm oil produced results in 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions—10 times more per ton than petroleum.
- The corn required to make enough ethanol to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank could feed one person for a year.
A new U.S. government regulation requires that, by January 1, 2006, food labels list a product’s content of trans fat, which comes from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and is a major cause of heart disease. Many food processors are seeking to eliminate trans fat by switching to other oils. Palm oil is one such alternative.
Palm oil is used around the world in such foods as margarine, shortening, baked goods, and candies. Biomedical research indicates that palm oil, which is high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, promotes heart disease. Though less harmful than partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, it is far more conducive to heart disease than such heart-protective liquid oils as olive and canola. The National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, World Health Organization, and other health authorities have urged reduced consumption of oils like palm oil.
Malaysia and Indonesia account for 83 percent of production and 89 percent of global exports. Oil palm is grown as an industrial plantation crop, often (especially in Indonesia) on newly cleared rainforest or peat-swamp forests rather than on already degraded land or disused agricultural land. Since the 1970s, the area planted with oil palm in Indonesia has grown over 30-fold to almost 12,000 square miles. In Malaysia, the area devoted to oil palm has increased 12-fold to 13,500 square miles.
Of the more than 400 land mammal species of Indonesia, 15 are critically endangered and another
125 threatened. Of Malaysia’s nearly 300 land mammal species, 6 are critically endangered and 41 threatened. The numbers of threatened species climb higher when terrestrial reptiles, amphibians, and birds are included.
Plantations also pollute the soil and water with pesticides and untreated palm oil-mill effluent, cause soil erosion and increased sedimentation in rivers, and cause air pollution due to forest fires.
Solutions coming tomorrow.