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What Can I do About Palm Oil?

Slash and Burn Haze

We get asked this question all the time. The situation seems hopeless at times. Deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, threats of species extinction, disregard of indigenous land rights, exploitation of labor. The list of problems caused by oil palm cultivation goes on and on. How can one person possibly impact situations occurring halfway around the world and do we even have the right to do so?

The Palm Free Council was founded to raise awareness among the American consumer of what is happening to the world’s most precious resources under the cover of “sustainable” production. We felt the American consumer is particularly unaware of the devastation that is occurring due to oil palm cultivation because of the power of marketing campaigns that claim, “no deforestation” and sustainable production, the added promise of poverty reduction, as well as our physical distance from the environmental repercussions. Some palm oil advocates even claim that moving away from palm oil will only encourage more deforestation by leading to the planting of less efficient crops.

We don’t agree that “sustainable” palm oil is possible under current production methods. We don’t believe in supporting an industry that has a multi-decade history of child and forced labor (as noted by the US trade commission), stealing land from those with indigenous land rights and using rainforest and peatland as cropland. We also believe the areas being destroyed are invaluable to the health of our planet and these areas and the people who live there must be supported and encouraged to develop sustainable industries that promote the beauty of the region while also protecting it from exploitation.

The largest market for palm oil is India, followed by the EU, then China. Most of the palm oil purchased by the EU gets used in biodiesel. However, the rampant deforestation and burning of forest and peatland to cultivate palm oil canceled out any positive effects that were hoped for when the EU initially committed to using palm biodiesel. In response, the EU has said it will phase out palm-based biodiesel by 2030. Indonesia is claiming discrimination and promising to take their case before the World Trade Organization. In the meantime, they are looking for new markets. Palm biodiesel was shut out of the US market in April 2018 when the US government imposed a steep anti-dumping duty to protect US biodiesel producers. But palm oil still finds a welcome home in the American personal care, cosmetic and food markets.

So what can you do? As a consumer, you can help to apply economic and social pressure on producer countries by keeping this story out in front of the American market and making conscious decisions when purchasing food and cosmetics. This kind of pressure is what led to a decrease in the deforestation rate seen in Brazil and a rejection of palm biodiesel by the EU. Here are some easy things you can do today to us help spread the message and effect change in the market:

  1. Follow us on social media. We are active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and can be found under #PalmFreeCouncil. We are using our contacts in the cosmetics and personal care industries to encourage brands to certify with the Palm Free Council as being free of palm, palm kernel oil, and their derivatives. A healthy following on social media gets the attention of brands and stores and lets them know there is a market for palm free products.
  2. Share our posts with your friends or followers and ask them to follow us.
  3. Ask your favorite brands to certify with the Palm Free Council. 90% of the certification fee goes to support our programs on the ground in Indonesia.
  4. Support Palm Free Certified products when they become available on Earth Day (April 22nd) 2019.
  5. Read our blog “Raw Materials made from Palm Oil”, to familiarize yourself with materials typically made from palm oil and avoid them if possible.
  6. Visit our booth at EarthX 2019 in Dallas on April 26-28, and hear our founder speak at the event.
  7. Visit our website, www.PalmFreeCouncil.com, to learn more about the issues surrounding palm oil and our Indonesian partner foundation as well as the programs we support.
  8. Donate to the Palm Free Council. 90% of donations go directly to support our programs in Indonesia.
  9. Invite us to speak at your school, environmental clubs, business meetings, social events, church, or where ever there is an audience. As a non-profit, we will need assistance with travel and accommodations.

If you want to do something about deforestation in general, go vegan or vegetarian. Beef, Palm Oil, Soybean and wood products are the biggest causes of tropical deforestation. The US and Brazil are the 2 largest producers of soybeans, with the US in the lead. Pressure from NGOs has led to a decrease in the rate of deforestation in Brazil but it’s still occurring. The US rotates crops and does not deforest. Make a conscious choice to diversify your protein sources and don’t only rely on soy. Avoid palm oil and its derivatives and support Palm Free Certified products. Lastly, I will close with a Native American proverb that is the motivation behind much of our work today,

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”