2013 - Volume 16 Number 2
It is little known the extent to which palm oil is a part of our everyday diet. In our supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience shops it is almost impossible to purchase products free from palm oil. It is used in ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, crackers, chips, margarine, fruit juice, batters, soap, toothpaste, laundry powders, detergents, cosmetics, pet food. It has also been touted as a biofuel – although palm oil-based diesel actually increases greenhouse emissions.
In Colombia human rights advocates have demonstrated that the murders and violence committed by the Colombian Armed Forces' under their 'paramiliatary strategy' whilst rationalised as 'depopulating' counter-insurgency work has the real aim of the taking of lands from peasant communities in fertile coastal plains in order to establish massive palm oil plantations to generate export dolllars for corrupt Colombian generals.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, where rainforests are being cleared, the impact on wildlife is catastrophic as the habitat of endangered species is being torn down, the livelihoods of indigenous communities destroyed, and seriously contributes to the warming of the planet. Palm-oil diesel was until recently hailed as a safe, renewable alternative to petroleum, but it has been found that the peat swamps in Indonesia and Malaysia – drained and burned to allow plantations of palm oil trees – released 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere, or 8% of the world's fossil fuel emissions.
The unsustainable expansion of the palm oil industry may seem a remote problem, but its solution might be the shopping trolley. The consequences of its growth have not been grasped by the industry. Consumer pressure, industry leadership and political incentives are required to permanently place these tropical rainforests off limits.