Palm Oil – let’s make it sustainable

Many people want palm oil banned. The supermarket chain Iceland has removed it from all its own-brand products and wants us to have a palm oil free Christmas.

Greenpeace too is campaigning against the use of what it calls “dirty” palm oil.

Both of these stands have grabbed plenty of headlines and fuelled comments on social media but they overlook some fundamental issues at the heart of this debate.

Banning palm oil may seem an obvious solution but as is often the case, what seems obvious is not always best. If everyone stopped buying products containing palm oil the effect would be to start a damaging chain reaction in south-east Asia, parts of Africa as well as central and South America.

In these countries where palm oil is produced farmers would be left with crops they could not sell. People would lose their livelihoods leading to increased poverty, and fragile economies would be seriously undermined.

Worse still, far from preserving forests, more of them would be lost because replacement vegetable oil crops have a far lower yield, so more land would be needed to produce the same amount of vegetable oil.

Bristol Zoological Society believes something can be done about the use of palm oil without destroying livelihoods or using even more land for crops.

We are calling for people to support palm oil which is produced sustainably. Put simply this means backing­ a system where people are treated fairly and areas with primary forests, cultural significance or rich biodiversity are protected and not deforested.

This may at first seem to put us at odds with companies such as Iceland but we are all aiming for the same end. We just differ in our approach. 

There are huge benefits with certified sustainable palm oil. It minimises environmental impact, safeguards biodiversity and benefits people.  

Many supermarkets already use certified sustainable palm oil in their own brand products but don’t currently point this out on their packets or jars.

We believe that all products containing sustainable palm oil should be clearly labelled, s. We are working with a number of supermarkets to encourage them to do this.

We know people are conscious about what they buy and the way food is produced these days, so it will be an empowering message to show consumers that they are supporting sustainable palm oil.

To this end, we are working with Bristol’s We The Curious to encourage visitors to support sustainable palm oil by emailing supermarkets including M&S, Co-op and Waitrose to congratulate them on using sustainable palm oil in their own brand products and to ask them to label it.

As a Society we are committed to promoting a world where palm oil is 100 per cent sustainably produced. Of course it cannot happen overnight; important changes to the way we farm and the way we live never do. But by supporting sustainably produced palm oil we will make a difference.

You can find out more here.

Katie Major, Conservation psychologist and campaigns manager



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