About Palm Oil

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees.

Because palm oil is cheap and efficient, it is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil and global consumption is rising.

Palm oil is used in the production of foods such as cake, chocolate, biscuits, margarine and frying fats. It is also found in cosmetics, soap, shampoo, cleaning products and can be used as a biofuel. Up to 50% of products in an average UK supermarket now contain palm oil!

The good…

Oil palm trees are highly productive and the yield per square kilometre is higher than for any other edible oil. Growing oil palm trees is the most efficient use of land for oil, producing twice as much as coconut trees and over thirty times as much as maize. This means that palm oil has the potential to be very environmentally friendly if it is grown sustainably.

And the bad…

The demand for palm oil has resulted in the rapid and unregulated expansion of oil palm plantations, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, where around 85% of the world’s palm oil is now produced. Vast areas of rainforest – once home to orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos – have been cleared to make way for oil palm trees. The new plantations contain just a fraction of the flora and fauna of rainforests and cannot sustain the native wildlife. As a result, animal numbers are falling fast.

Also, rainforests are often found on tropical peat soils. When the forests are cleared and peat lands drained to make way for Palm Oil plantations, carbon is released; contributing significantly to greenhouses gases in the atmosphere and global warming.

The challenge

If we were to stop using palm oil, we would need to find an alternative to supply the global demand for edible vegetable oils. Because other oil crops – such as coconuts, olives, sunflowers and maize – are less productive per square kilometre, even more land would need to be converted to agriculture.

The solution

In recent years a number of organisations have started to produce and source palm oil more sustainably. Chester Zoo supports the work of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has developed sustainability standards for palm oil produced with minimal impact on wildlife, local people and the environment. Some companies are even taking further steps to become ‘deforestation-free’. We are working, with others, to improve these standards further to make palm oil production even more sustainable

Many companies are now labelling their products as containing certified sustainable palm oil, but not all – so the palm oil on products you buy could still be sustainable even if it’s not labelled. Buying only products that contain certified sustainable palm oil is an important step in helping to protect animals like orangutans and others that share its rainforest habitat.

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