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If you’re like us, your social media feeds this week have been full of people sharing the recent banned Christmas advert from Iceland. The video, originally made by Greenpeace, shows an animated orangutan alerting a young girl that there’s ‘a human in my jungle’ and shows footage of the deforestation caused by palm oil farming. With over 4 million views the advert has the nation running to their cupboards to expose the products causing this destruction..but a lot of environmental research does not advocate a boycott of Palm oil like Iceland’s emotive advert suggests, so before you empty out your cupboards we have a couple of alternatives for you.

 

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil made from palm trees that can be found in Africa, Asia, North & South America and is grown on plantations. Areas of the rainforest  are destroyed to make space for these large plantations. The plantations can lead to animals like orangutans losing their homes as it destroys natural habitats and disrupts ecosystems in the process. Greenpeace report that an area the size of a football pitch is lost every 25 seconds due to deforestation with global production of Palm Oil doubling between 2000-2012.

 

Rightly so this has caused a huge wave of reaction online, with thousands vowing to boycott Palm oil and people rushing to their cupboards to expose which products use palm oil. But it’s near impossible to avoid Palm Oil, it’s the world's most widely consumed vegetable oil, said to be found in 50% of supermarket products from bread, cakes, ice cream, cleaning products, cosmetics and many more.

 

So is an outright boycott the answer?

 

Companies like Lush have spoken out about why an outright boycott on palm oil is not the answer. What Iceland’s advert fails to highlight is that palm can be produced sustainably and banning palm oil use is not the answer. In reality it should never be talked about in isolation because there's a range of factors that are causing mass deforestation- therefore our reactions should cover a range of lifestyle changes not just things that are easy to swap. We can’t vow to swap to palm free shampoo and peanut butter when livestock is just as huge of a cause of deforestation. Whilst Iceland’s advert directs our blame to Palm oil, one of the main causes of deforestation is conversion of land for pasture to raise livestock, with cattle ranching reportedly being responsible for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon… something conveniently excluded from Iceland's anti-deforestation ad. 

 

 It makes logical sense to want to boycott a product- especially when a huge supermarket chain are showing videos of cute orangutans dying in order for you to wash your hair and have your morning tea and toast. However it doesn't help to reduce deforestation or human rights violations because the real problem isn’t palm oil itself, but the demand for it. The mass demand for cheap products causes the need for extensive amount of land, by boycotting palm oil it means it's only a matter of time before producers will simple replace palm oil for another ingredient, and in most cases this will just be another type of oil. This switch would most likely require even more land because palm oil is actually one of the most efficient and sustainable types of oil, for example 1 hectare produces about 3.6 tonnes of palm oil in comparison to 1 hectare of sunflowers which only produces 0.7 tonnes. Add to this the fact that other types of oil are also a lot more polluting as their cultivation requires chemical fertilizers, pesticides or causes the production of toxic waste as a by-product (this is the case with olive oil!)...now palm oil is sounding really quite appealing.
 

But all hope is not lost- the answer just isn’t boycotting palm oil. So before Iceland have you rushing to empty your cupboards of anything with palm oil in here’s 3 things you can do instead..

  1. Consume less- really this is the only answer. Without a reduction in consumer demand for products, deforestation will continue to be validated by excessive demand. The only way to end it is to reduce our own ecological footprints by buying less, and paying attention to how and where things are made.

  2. Ask Supermarkets to implement stricter rules and regulations surrounding sustainable palm oil production.  As the palm oil industry is not about to die out no matter how many shares a video of sad orangutans gets on facebook it’s essential we keep advocating for companies to farm palm oil sustainably -  an approach pushed by the Sumatran Orangutan Society.

  3. Support companies who only use palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) whose regulations ensure confidence that areas of high conservation value have been preserved, and local communities have been supported as well as making sure plantation managers are implementing best practices.  Or if you want to gradually move your demand away from products that rely on palm check out Ethical consumer’s list of palm oil free products here

At the end of the day it’s ok to question Iceland's motivations in guilt tripping the nation… was it to save the orangutans, in which case shouldn’t they be promoting reducing our meat intake too? Or was it just another example of greenwashing: a way for Iceland to gain publicity for a video they knew would create emotive reactions, whilst they’ve removed it from their own products their shelves are still full of others with the very cause they are advocating against.

If you want to hear more about this we recommend ethical consumer’s podcast on Palm Oil! Listen to it here

 

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