We pick out some popular debates in the vegan world and tackle them head-on. This time, we ask whether or not vegans should boycott palm oil
Should vegans boycott palm oil?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil taken from the fruit of the African palm tree. Around 85% of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, and it is often produced in a non–sustainable way since forests are destroyed to make way for plantations. Deforestation, indigenous rights abuses, climate change, and animal cruelty are all problems related to the production of palm oil. Palm oil isn’t an animal product, meaning it is suitable for a vegan diet, but many ethical vegans think there’s good reason to boycott it. The YES’s and NO’s are presented here so that all angles can be considered, we’re not advocating for one or the other, just trying to bring you both sides of the argument.
Palm oil production is responsible for large scale deforestation, pushing species such as the orangutan to the point of extinction. Palm oil might not be an animal product, but it’s one that has a direct negative effect on animals and wildlife. There are more than three–hundred–thousand species of animal in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo, and huge numbers of these are killed, injured, or displaced during deforestation at the hands of the palm oil industry.
This large scale deforestation isn’t just an animal cruelty issue, it’s an environmental one. Deforestation contributes to climate change; it’s said that rainforests are the lungs of the planet, and palm oil production is hacking those lungs down bit by bit, shrinking them all the time. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area of rainforest the size of three hundred football fields is cleared every hour.
Even though in some instances the palm oil industry offers people a path out of poverty, often these plantations have been developed without the consent of, or not in consultation with, the local people.
Although sustainable palm oil is available, unfortunately it currently accounts for only a small percentage of the total market. Certified sustainable palm oil plantations currently make up around 15% of the global total.
If you’d like more information on sustainable palm oil then check out Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a not–for–profit organisation that works to implement global standards for sustainable palm oil production: rspo.org
Palm oil is so abundant that it’s almost impossible to avoid. Shopping and eating vegan can be hard enough for many, if we start saying vegans should boycott palm oil too then people might be extremely limited in what they can eat. If veganism becomes a miserable struggle then people are less likely to stick with it or be positive and effective advocates for the lifestyle.
Not all vegans are ethical vegans, so it’s not as simple as saying ‘vegans should boycott palm oil’ when this concern won’t necessarily extend to those who are vegan for health reasons.
In countries like Indonesia, one of the largest palm oil producers, the industry can offer a path out of poverty for many people.
Sustainable palm oil is available, and even huge companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, and Johnson & Johnson have committed to 100% sustainable palm oil use.
The leading alternatives to palm oil – soybean and rapeseed – are not without their own environmental damage issues. Palm oil has a better yield per hectare, and requires less fertiliser and pesticides than soybean and rapeseed.
Greenpeace spokesperson Richard George has said palm oil “is fundamentally one of the most efficient vegetable oils in terms of land use.” A better question might be: ‘Should vegans boycott unsustainable palm oil?’ If we accept that palm oil itself is actually environmentally better than alternatives like soya bean oil or animal fats, then it seems more important to support the stricter regulation of sustainably produced palm oils and encourage companies to only source their palm oil responsibly.
We have presented you with two sides of the argument, but what do you think?
Have your say below…