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Boycotting palm oil: does it really protect the environment?

© Maxime Aliaga/Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, SOCP)

Palm oil has had a lot of bad publicity recently as crop production can lead to vast areas of deforestation which puts many species in danger. This is why an increasing number of people are tending to boycott products that contain it.  However is it really the most ideal solution to help protect the environment?

Jake Bicknekll and Matthew Stuebig from the University of Kent and Eleanor Slade form the University of Oxford don’t believe this is the solution.  They emphasised their views in the The Conversation.  They believe that by boycotting palm oil will just shift the problem towards even more dramatic consequences.  But how do they believe this will happen?  Palm oil, found in almost half of  all of our food products, would need to be “replaced by other types of vegetable oil to keep up with the global demand,” explain the researchers.  These alternative vegetable oils like soya and rapeseed require a lot more land space. 

More deforestation

In relation with other vegetable oil crops palm oil plantations yield four to ten times more oil per unit of land and they don’t need as much pesticide for there to be a good crop. Researchers also noted that although palm oil amounts to 35% of all vegetable oils produced, it is grown on just 10% of the land used to produce oil crops.

If we try to replace the demand for palm oil with other crops, there will be a greater need for land meaning even more deforestation in certain regions particularly South America.  Are there any solutions?

huile de palme palmier
Credits : Pixabay / sarangib

Certified palm oil

According to researchers certified palm oil producers should be promoted rather than boycott palm oil altogether.  Certified palm oil is produced more responsibly.  For example crops are planted in non-wooded areas meaning these plantation have no affect on deforestation.

Certification is very expensive and big businesses like Nestlé and Palmolive are already using certified palm oil in their products.  However the majority of consumers today are less likely to pay more money for a sustainable product. (In general the price for the certificate has an effect on the sale price.)  Promoting palm oil – even if it is certified – also seems negative for consumers despite the environmental benefits it implies.  Shops can unfortunately no longer speak about it.

The ideal situation for the environment (we are not taking about our health) would be to understand the advantages of certified palm oil for the environment. Once this mark is more popular, consumers will no longer worry about spending a little more for products that respect the environment.  Whatever the case, boycotting palm oil is not the solution as the demand will be filled by something even worse for the environment.


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