Red palm oil has burst onto the health scene as a miracle food, helping to heal everything from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s to cancer.
However, as it becomes more popular worldwide, a dark secret has come to light.
Due to its lucrative value, rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia are destroyed and replaced with African oil palm tree plantations — seriously endangering the habitat of many rare birds, orangutan, pygmy elephants and clouded leopards.
As this deforestation progresses at lightening speed, a hefty carbon footprint is created as well.
Exceptional healing benefit
Long popular in Asian countries, palm oil has become the healthy replacement for trans fat-containing oils around the world. And now, extra-virgin varieties (otherwise known as red palm oil) have risen to superfood status.
Research has shown the oil can help boost immunity, support healthy liver and lung function, aid in fat loss, improve sugar metabolism and strengthen the bones and teeth. High in beta-carotene, vitamin E and K along with CoQ10, red palm oil has an impressive nutritional profile.
But before you rush out to buy your own miracle in a jar, here is something to consider: The devastating repercussions of production.
Hunger for palm oil creates grave outcomes
Indonesia entered into the global economy during the late 1980s and is now one of the two largest palm oil producers in the world.
As a result of deforestation to clear land for plantations, “at least half of the world’s wild orangutans have disappeared in the last 20 years; biologically viable populations of orangutans have been radically reduced in size and number; and 80 percent of the orangutan habitat has either been depopulated or totally destroyed,” said Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas, the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. She believes the animals could be extinct within 10 years.
The environment suffers too. Anytime a rainforest is slashed, burned or clear cut, delicate ecosystems, the planet and its inhabitants pay the price. And greenhouse gases skyrocket as well, furthering the environmental toll.
The myth of sustainable production
As these serious issues gain more media attention, consumers in the U.S. and Europe are seeking sustainable versions of the oil. Unfortunately, sustainability standards have proven to be ineffective.
A case in point: The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a global certification body that created eight principles with 39 specific criteria which producers must adhere to for certification.
Yet, according to Worldwatch:
“The Jakarta-based Center for Orangutan Protection has directly opposed the certification scheme. The group said last year that it found two RSPO member companies clear-cutting forests that were home to orangutans, sun bears, and Borneo gibbons.
“It has been six years after RSPO was put into operation but forests are still cleared and orangutans are continually killed,” said Novi Hardianto, the Center’s habitat program coordinator, in a press release. “All criteria on sustainable palm oil and certification process are merely public lies.'”
Until palm oil production renders itself truly sustainable, it will carry a heavy price tag for wildlife, the environment and indigenous communities. Galdikas believes a solution can be found by empowering farmers and local people to have a financial stake in preserving the forest.
She also feels the international community needs to take responsibility too by boycotting products that contain the oil — including soaps, detergents, cosmetics, biofuels, candles and a variety of processed foods.