2 Million Hectares Burnt For Palm Oil Plantations
With little over three weeks before the Paris climate conference it seems there is little coverage and discussion around the forest fires which have been burning relentlessly throughout Indonesia in the mainstream press.
Since July, Indonesia has lost over 2 million hectares of unspoilt rainforests and peatlands due to the widespread clearance of land to grow palm oil.
Many of the fires are being lit and fuelled by small farmers which are using slash and burn techniques to clear the land in an effort to plant the monoculture crop of palm oil.
Burning the rainforests is the quickest and cheapest way to decimate the land in an effort to prepare it for planting.
The head of the Global Carbon Project at the ‘Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’ (CSIRO) in Australia, Pep Canadell, said the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in 2 million years, because of the 1 billion tonnes of carbon released by the fires in a two-month period. (1) The combination of dry conditions and deliberalty lit fires has created thousands of fires throughout Indonesian forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent months.
These forest fires have become a regular occurrence in Indonesia. To put these fires in perspective, the most recent fires are contributing as much carbon to the atmosphere as the annual emissions of Germany and Japan, two of the largest economies, in just a few months. Considering this is a relatively small country (geographically) this trend is rather disturbing. (2)
It is not only the burning of rainforests and the release of vast quantities of methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some of the most diverse and endangered ecosystems are being exploited and turned into monoculture wastelands.
This widespread deforestation for palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia has pushed many species to the edge of extinction. Elephants, Rhinos, orang-utans and tigers are being overlooked in man’s efforts to produce cheap palm oil used in a variety of products found at your local supermarket.
So What Is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is produced from Oil Palm which grows particularly well in the tropics. Tree Palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, accounting for 65 per cent of all vegetable oil traded internationally.
Palm oil is a common ingredient of margarines, biscuits, breads, breakfast cereals, instant noodles, shampoos, lipsticks, candles, detergents, chocolates and ice creams. The list of products that rely on the unique properties of palm oil is long, with one estimate suggesting that about a half of all packaged items found in supermarkets contain it.
The palm fruit yields two distinct oils – palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit, is edible and used primarily in food products. Palm kernel oil is extracted from the seed of the fruit and is used mainly in the manufacture of soaps and cosmetics, while palm kernel expeller (PKE) is used as a feed for livestock and as biofuel for generating electricity. (3)
Palm Oil Production Expected to Double By 2020
The really scary thing is that it is estimated by 2020, that the use of palm oil is expected to double, as the world’s population increases and as people – especially in countries like China and India – become more affluent and consume more manufactured goods containing palm oil.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil, high in saturated fats, grown mainly in tropical countries but mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, which accounts for 85% of global palm oil production.
How do I know if a product contains palm oil?
The regulations for food labelling vary from country to country. A new EU law on the provision of food information to consumers was adopted by the Council of the European Union on September 29th, 2011.
Under the new legislation, which applies to all member states of the European Union, the types of vegetable oil used in food products must be stated explicitly on the label.
This means that manufacturers will no longer be able to hide palm oil in their ingredients under the generic term ‘vegetable oil’. This law came into effect on December 13th 2014.
In Australia and New Zealand, there is currently no obligation under law to list palm oil on food ingredient lists—the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ may be used. The proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Palm Oil) Bill 2011 has not been passed into law.
In the US, food labelling regulations (Code of Federal Regulations Title 21) state that ingredients shall be listed by common or usual name. Blends of vegetable oils may be listed as ‘blend of vegetable oils’, followed by the common or usual name of each individual oil in parentheses.
If each oil in the blend is completely hydrogenated, the term ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ is followed by the common or usual name of each individual oil in parentheses, e.g. ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed, and palm oils)’. (4)
As a general rule of thumb components of a product – colourings, flavourings, emulsifiers and humectants – are commonly palm oil derived. A quick test – if the saturated fat content is around 50% the likelihood of the vegetable oil being palm is high.