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Is Palm Oil Vegan?

Is Palm Oil Vegan?


Palm oil is just that: oil from the fruit
of a palm tree. Sounds as vegan as anything, right? Well, this most certainly plant-derived
oil found in processed foods, makeup, household cleaners, toiletries, biodiesel, and more,
is far from a black and white ingredient. It’s one of the world’s most hotly debated
crops, with concerns over deforestation, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, species
extinction, and a slew of human rights violations in its wake, thus begging the question: IS
palm oil vegan? Hi it’s Emily from Bite Size Vegan and welcome
to another vegan nugget. Today’s video is one that’s been requested more times that
I can count and one that I greatly hesitated to produce. Not because I think the truth
about palm oil is unimportant by any means, but because when you are a brand new vegan
or when you’re considering going vegan, the intricacies of what is or is not vegan
beyond meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, can easily overwhelm, leading to the exasperated “well
what CAN I eat?!” or even worse “being vegan’s too hard, I might as well not try!” While it’s always important for us to be
informed about the products we are choosing, and I believe education is absolutely key,
I want to say to brand new or would-be vegans to focus on eliminating animal products first,
get your bearings, and you’ll start to find a growing awareness of other elements. This
is not to excuse the affects of palm oil we’ll be discussing, but rather to assure you that
in removing animal products from your diet, you will be making a huge impact already in
all the areas we will be covering. I’m going to attempt to make this video
as simple and concise as possible by touching on the major elements. If you want to delve
deeper, which I’m always a fan of, and for detailed citations to every study and fact
that I’m mentioning, please see the blog post for this video, which has resources and
close to 60 academic citations. This issue is terrifically complex and while I’ll relay
suggestions at the end, you’ll see it’s difficult to produce a clear-cut yes or no
to the videos establishing query. There are three main areas of concern when
it comes to palm oil: the impact on the environment, animals, and people. I’ll briefly touch
on each, though all three are inextricably linked. Let’s start with the social impact, or human
side of palm oil. Once heralded, even by the United Nations, as a high-yielding, environmentally-friendly,
economically-viable and even healthy “magic bullet” to help struggling farmers in undeveloped
nations build economic stability and provide a cheap yet nutritious source of calories,
palm oil production has proven to be far from the golden child of workers’ rights. Though some case studies and accounts continue
to praise the positive socio-economic aspects of palm oil and it very much has dramatically
improved the economies of producing countries, namely Indonesia and Malaysia, which account
for up to 90% of palm oil exports, the palm oil industry is rife with human rights abuses
including the illegal seizure of indigenous peoples’ lands, labor trafficking, child
labor, unprotected work with hazardous chemicals, and long-term abuse of temporary contracts. Palm oil workers, in many cases, end up like
indentured servants, struggling to pay back debt. Of course there also exist case studies
of villages finding great prosperity from the introduction of plantations, though often
new problems can arise from the cash influx like gambling and alcohol consumption. A concretely negative aspect of palm oil farming
for humans, the environment and non-human animals alike are toxic pesticides. Pesticide
usage isn’t monitored or controlled on plantations with around 25 different types being regularly
employed. One of great concern is paraquat, the most toxic herbicide marketed over the
past 60 years, which has been banned in 13 countries. Agrochemicals have been shown to
be more harmful to women than men, and women on palm oil plantations, as with many crops,
are responsible for the mixing, handling and spraying of the pesticides. This brings us into the environmental impact
of palm oil production, which is irrevocably enmeshed with the impact on native species.
The main elements of concern are the loss of forested land, leading to habitat destruction
and loss of biodiversity, and the extreme greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning
peatland, which I’ll explain in a moment. According to the World Watch Institute, Indonesia
emits more greenhouse gases than any other country besides China and the United States
mainly due to palm oil production, with the World Resources Institute ranking its output
as 7th in the world. While clear-cutting forested land in and of itself is environmentally destructive,
the conversion of what’s called peatland into plantations is nothing short of devastating. Peat is a water-logged, organic soil layer
made up of dead and decaying plant matter that is rich with carbon. Peatlands are vital
to the reduction of global warming as they absorb carbon and other greenhouse gasses,
and Southeast Asia, where palm oil plantations are blossoming, contains three quarters of
the world’s tropical peat-soil carbon. If all of this peat-stored carbon were released
into the atmosphere, it would be equivalent to the carbon emissions from about nine years
of global fossil fuel use. These vital ecosystems are actually not ideal
for palm oil plantations, and ample grasslands and degraded areas exist whereupon plantations
could be built, however, companies can subsidize the cost of clearing peatland by selling the
timber taken from the areas, and thus follow the most profitable route. To convert peatland into palm oil farms, it
has to first be drained, which causes the peat to decompose, leading to heat-trapping
emissions that can continue for decades. The peat eventually compacts, falling below the
water table at which point it must again be drained. In addition, peat soil is often too
acidic for oil palms and must have chemicals added for viability. Possibly the most devastating practice for
the environment and human and non-human animals alike is the intentional burning of peatland
as an easy way to clear land for agriculture. These fires, which are some of the world’s
largest fires on record, release hundreds of years’ worth of carbon and pollutants
into the atmosphere and burn for weeks to months. In dry years, the carbon emissions are astronomical.
In 1997 fires in Indonesia released as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the United States
had for that entire year. And when it comes to the environment, when you outdo the United
Sates in your destruction, you know it’s bad. These fires can even become a public
health hazard with the smoke and smog from fires in Indonesia in 2013 causing respiratory
problems as far away as Malaysia and Singapore. Of course these fires aren’t just destroying
the forests, but also the living beings within them. Animals are burned alive while trying
to flee and are often massacred by farm workers as they try to escape or purposefully driven
back into the flames. In the 1997 fires alone, Borneo’s orangutan population was reduced
by one-third when close to 8,000 of these already endangered primates were burned to
death or directly killed. Poachers also take advantage of these burns to kill fleeing animals
like the Sumatran rhino, which as of 2008 had a population of fewer than 275 individuals. The threat this destruction poses to our world’s
biodiversity cannot be overstated. Southeast Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions
of the planet. While comprising only 3% of the world’s surface, it contains around
20% of all plant, animal and marine species on the planet! It has 4 of the world’s 25
biodiversity hotspots, which are defined as “a biogeographical region rich in biodiversity
but under anthropogenic threat [meaning from human-caused pollution] ..and 70% of its original
habitat must have been lost.” The orangutan is certainly the face of palm
oil’s devastation to non-human animals, with the critically endangered Sumatran population
hovering around 7,300 as of 2004. But hundreds of other threatened species in Southeast Asia
are also being horrifically impacted by palm oil production. The Sumatran tigers population,
for example, was reported in 2008 to be a paltry 176-271 individuals left, with elephants
and rhinos also at great risk. With all of this destruction and violence,
what’s being done about palm oil production’s long shadow? In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable
Palm Oil was established with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable
oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.
Composed of oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers,
retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social NGOs, the Roundtable has been largely
criticized for not implementing its own standards. There are numerous loopholes in the RSPO’s
certifications like plantations being “grandfathered” in and extremely subjective language for judging
high value conservation forest versus forest green-lighted for clearing. Groups such as
the Union of Concerned Scientists have called for objective parameters for sustainability,
such as caps of greenhouse gas emissions, to no avail. Companies like Unilever, who are also RSPO
members, are still sourcing their palm oil by unsustainable and ethically questionable
methods, with plantation workers crashing the 2013 RSPO meeting with the call “don’t
certify exploitation,” and three case studies finding rampant human rights violations at
RSPO certified plantations in Indonesia. Novi Hardianto, the Center for Orangutan Protection
habitat program coordinator says that despite the RSPO, “Forests are still cleared and
orangutans are continually killed…All criteria on sustainable palm oil and certification
process are merely public lies.” So, is there hope? And what are we to do as
vegans or potential vegans when we walk into a store to make a purchase? Is there such
a thing as sustainable palm oil? And, after all of this, is palm oil even vegan? Well, palm oil, in theory, can be made sustainably
by using degraded lands and grasslands instead of forests and on mineral soils instead of
peatland. Increasing yield on existing plantations through tree breeding and better management,
can reduce the need for using more land. Governments can call for mandatory labeling of palm oil
on ingredient labels, as currently there are over 200 palm oil derivative terms in use. Groups like Palm Oil Investigations believe
that mandatory labeling will place companies in a position to source Certified Sustainable
Palm Oil, which is different from the RSPO’s stamp, because consumers will be aware of
their use of palm oil and be able to demand sustainable sources. They also argue that
contacting brands and encouraging them to shift to actual sustainable palm oil is even
preferable to full boycotts. The logic being that palm oil companies aren’t going out
of business anytime soon and if no one demands truly sustainable options, they’ll keep
producing with their current cheap and destructive methods. Of course there’s also the argument that
such consumer-driven tactics are vain attempts to fix the underlying problem of capitalism
with capitalistic efforts, and that an entire overhauling of our economic systems and food
distribution politics is needed. Now I’d like to try and put this into the
greater vegan framework, if I may. With any agricultural production, there will be destruction.
I have a whole video on whether vegans kill more animals than non-vegans due to the field
mice, rabbits and other animals who are unintentionally killed during harvests, as well as a video
on whether you can be 100 percent vegan and whether you’re vegan “enough,” all of
which address this issue and are linked below. Should we be aware of and constantly striving
to educate ourselves about where our food and other products come from and whom they
impact? Absolutely. The danger comes when we are so overwhelmed that we throw up our
hands and think it’s not worth it to even try. Animal agriculture, as I demonstrated in an
extensive video linked there and below, accounts for 51% of global Green House Gas emissions, a staggering
91% of Amazon rainforest destruction, and is itself a leading cause of species extinction
and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the deaths of trillions of beings every year. I’m not here to play the numbers game or
place the impact of palm oil beneath that of animal products. What I’m trying to say
to those of you who are newly vegan or wanting to be vegan is: the efforts you are making
are not discounted by those you are learning to make. If we give up entirely because we aren’t
perfect, what kind of impact are we having? Yes, we can always improve, which to me is
the definition of veganism- doing the best with what we know and always working to educate
ourselves and adjust our behavior accordingly. So I would encourage you to look into this
further for yourself. Check out the blog post and the resources. I’ve included links to
lists of products known to contain palm oil and lists of palm-oil free products as well
as a phone app you can use to scan products and check for pam oil and more. Luckily, palm oil is in processed foods, so
if you eat a whole foods diet, chances are, you’re largely avoiding it already. But
do know that vegan food items, toiletries, cleaning products and more, can contain palm
oil. I’d really love to hear your thoughts on
this. Do you consider palm oil vegan? Whether you’re vegan or non-vegan, do you avoid
palm oil in your products and if so, why? What do you think the solution is to this
industry? Let me know in the comments. I hope that this has been helpful. The time
it to produce this video clocks in at around ____ .  If you’d like to help support
Bite Size Vegan so I can keep putting hours to bring you this educational resources, please
check out the support links in the video description below where you can give a one-time donation
or receive perks and rewards for your support by joining the Nugget Army–the link for that
is also in the iCard sidebar. If you enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up. If you’re new, be sure to hit
that big red subscribe button down there for more awesome vegan content every Monday, Wednesday,
and some Fridays! Now go live vegan, always keep learning, and I’ll see you soon. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

Comments (12)

  1. Excellent as always! Thank you…๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ™โค๏ธ

  2. Palm oil is NOT vegan if being vegan means that your lifestyle does not have a direct influence on the unnecessary death of an entire species (in this case the orangutan).

  3. I'm sorry, was there some nutritional information stuck between all the preaching? I couldn't find it.

  4. Genuine question : but what are other alternatives out there that are more Eco friendly and ethical? I heard soybean oil is actually 9x more damaging since it uses more lands

  5. Thank you so much, incredibly well done video!!

  6. I don't consider it vegan, so i avoid it.

  7. No, palm oil have pork and beef DNA in it. A test done by UTech Ltd. proof that. Most people don't know, the palm are feed to the pig and cow, the fat from those animals are then mixed with the little oil from the palm to produce palm oil.

  8. I'd rather be palm free than vegan.

  9. Yall vegans: don't you DARE eat palm oil containing foods.

  10. Dear Jesus you guys are absolutely insane but I do admire your level of commitment. I do too avoid palm oil. Itโ€™s all about eating non processed which more often than not will lead you to cook at home. Lady I bet you mean well but you look malnourished, open up to some sardines. Cheers!

  11. amazing, i learned new things! I shared. keep up your good work ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿค—

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