Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil worldwide because it can be grown so profitably and is versatile. It is used in biodiesel, food, soap, and cosmetics. Oil palms take up much less space than alternatives to produce the same amount of oil. It wrongly has such a bad reputation because alternatives would destroy the environment much more. So, should we buy products with palm oil?
The problems with palm oil
One thing is clear. Palm oil is bad for the environment. Because of it, gigantic areas of rainforest in Southeast Asia have been cleared for decades, and threatened animals are losing their habitat. To create space for oil palm monocultures, moors are drained and forests are burned, which emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
Are there better alternatives?
Replacing it with soy, coconut, sunflower, or rapeseed oil would result in a much higher land requirement, lead to even more greenhouse gas emissions and put animals and plants at greater risk than global palm oil plantations do. No other oil is as efficient as palm oil.
If the production of other vegetable oils would be relocated to the EU or the US, rapeseed and sunflower fields could displace other crops. If the feed was previously grown in the fields, it must come from another source. It is possible that instead of palm oil, the feed will be imported.
What can we do?
Use palm oils that are certified as sustainable. It is also important to improve consumer awareness in India, China, and Indonesia as that is where most of the palm oil is used worldwide. Better planning and state measures are needed to protect forests and reduce corruption.
Even if palm oil is more efficient than other oils, its cultivation is still devastating. As a consumer, it would generally be advisable to use fewer products that contain oils, regardless of whether they are palm oil or a palm oil substitute. Conscious handling of products and a reduction in some consumer goods is the only sensible solution.