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Palm Oil: the environment’s silent killer

Tyler Naumann

What do peanut butter, shampoo, mayonnaise, and moisturising cream have in common? Here’s the answer: palm oil. Palm oil is the most common form of vegetable oil that is used in many products, and comes from the palm fruit grown on the African oil palm tree. The use of palm oil has currently become problematic its production is linked to some of the major environmental issues that we are facing – deforestation, climate change, habitat degradation, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuses in the countries that it is produced.

The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that about 300 football fields of rainforest are cleared each hour in order to grow oil palm tree plantations. In total, 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually and contributes to 30% of the world’s vegetable oil usage.

Deforestation due to the demands of palm oil production has significantly contributed to the negative impacts of climate change. The removal of ecosystems and biodiversity within the forests of Borneo, Sumatra, and Indonesia results in the burning of forest undergrowth and valuable timber. This has therefore become why Indonesia is the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, all because of palm oil.

The exploitation of this fruit and the environment in which it grows has become detrimental to 300 000 different animal species in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra. There has been specific danger to the native orang-utans; which have become critically endangered due to the destruction of its habitat and is estimated to have 5 – 10 years left of existence. In the last 20 years, over 90% of orang-utan habitat has been destroyed. The UN has estimated that 1 000 – 5 000 orang-utans are killed each year for this development. The orang-utan is a keystone species and plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem.

Palm oil production has also become harmful to the indigenous farm workers of these countries. Although these plantations have been claimed to bring development to disadvantaged areas, in reality the opposite is happening. The human rights of workers as well as children are being violated as they are made to work for long, strenuous hours with little remuneration. As the production of palm oil grows, so does the dependency grow of workers to these companies.

The production of palm oil is now as a reality, detrimental to the environment, endangered animals, as well as the quality of life of other human beings. So next time you buy something check the ingredients for palm oil and stay away from supporting the continuation of this destruction.

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