At What Cost? The Killing of Orangutans For Palm Oil
by Karley Ziegler Mott
a unique shiny appearance to candles. While it may be naturally derived, it is a leader
in terms of cruelty to animals and harming the environment.
Palm oil is everywhere.
It is used in most soaps, as it is gentle to the skin and makes for a hard bar. It is
used in lipsticks and in lip balms, as it is softening and nourishing due to the high
saturated fat content. I have looked at the boxes of so many lipsticks, including
major brands from $3 to $30+ many contain palm oil. Palm is in hand soaps, in
nearly every single melt and pour base (some don't say palm oil; many simply state
"vegetable oils." The one all-natural palm oil free melt and pour base sold in the US
that I can find on the net contains peanut oil instead, which isn't a good option for
soap. Palm oil is in many shampoos and shower gels as well.
It is not just in our cosmetics.
Do you want an incentive to eat healthier if your habits are poor? This is your time to
do something! It is in our processed foods. Just go to Wegmans and take a glance at
the back of the package of any major brand of crackers, chips or cookies. Palm oil is
in packaged biscotti and treats for gourmet bakeries, too. Some chocolates also
contain palm oil, as do many kinds of toothpaste. It is estimated that more than
10% of products in the store contain this cheap oil.
Palm oil, by the way, is high in saturated fats and raises your risk of heart disease. As
heart diseases is our nation's #1 killer of women, shouldn't that be reason enough to
stop consuming it?
This oil is also used for biofuels. One would think a "green" alternative to the
emissions from standard diesel gas would be more beneficial. Fuel has been produced
to be used instead of traditional diesel in farming equipment in the United States. That
sounds wonderful, but to get this "green" fuel in terms of emissions, thousands of
acres of rainforest have been destroyed. Countless wildlife have perished in an effort
to be more "green" in eco-speak. It is a catch 22, almost, in that particular situation.
Nobody seems to be aware of HOW that type of "green" fuel comes to be. No one
speaks of the effect of animals and the rainforest...to the quality of air. So, yes, using
this as a diesel alternative is better for the environment when you talk of emissions
alone. No one wants to talk about at what cost this came to be.
As a note, we import a great amount of palm oil in the United States. We have plans
to import more. In the UK alone, they import over 1 million TONS of palm oil each
Palm or petroleum?
When I was reading an article not long ago, there was an interview with reps from
Greenpeace. It was said that palm oil is worse than crude oil. I agree. I don't use
products derived from crude oil. Yes, they may be "natural" (so is Poison Oak), but
that doesn't mean it is good. Truth be told, I'd sooner burn a paraffin candle or rub
Vaseline on my lips (which is banned in the EU, by the way) than use a product
containing palm oil.
What is so wrong with how we get palm oil?
Palm oil is brought to us by literally destroying the habitat of animals, particularly
orangutans. Thousands of orangutans have died because of this trade. In fact, five
particular mammals are endangered (3 being on the "critically endangered" list)
because their habits have been cleared away for palm oil. These are the Sumatran
and Bornean Orangutans, Asian Elephant, Sumatran Tiger, and Sumatran Rhinoceros.
This is happening all over Southeast Asia, but the majority of the palm oil (over 80%)
comes from Malaysia and Borneo alone. Something needs to be done, and soon. If
this continues, the Friends of the Earth predicts that in about 10 years, orangutans
will be extinct. Extinct.
Why is this the case? In their natural habitat, these animals are losing their homes to
fires, the logging industry, and more specifically, the palm oil industry. Palm Oil
plantations abound, and animals are facing the truth that their travel patterns are cut
off, their homes are vanishing (ie: the rainforest in general). Animals are much more
vulnerable to poachers because of this. Plantation workers have also been
discovered to kill these animals to get food, or to just get the animals "out of their
way". Numerous cases of killing these animals essentially "for the sport of it" have
been reported. Another way the animals are dying is because the plantation workers
often set fires to clear space and the fires often burn out of control, destroying a
large chunk of the natural habitat of these animals.
Not only are there moral issues when it comes to the loss of life of these animals,
but there is a huge environmental impact. Tropical rainforests are being cleared
away. Because of the palm oil plantations (made by clearing away the rainforests),
over 600 million TONS of carbon are leaked into the air. Pesticides and herbicides are
in the air because of this practice. Let's also think about the fish dying each day from
what is being leaked from the processing plants there.
What is being done?
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004. Its mission was
to promote awareness for the use of sustainable palm oil. Strict guidelines were set
in place to ensure that changes were made in the palm oil trade. It sounded like a
Unfortunately, many environmentalists and animal rights organizations have come
out and made statements criticizing the RSPO.
Greenpeace, for example, has publicly called the RSPO "a farce". This is because it
was discovered that several members of the RSPO actually engage in unethical
practices which have caused more death and deforestation. The RSPO has not taken
action against these members. When members of a committee pledging to clean up
this industry as the very ones causing harm, something needs to change.
When something billed as "sustainable" palm oil was brought to the marketplace by
way of contributing to global warming and killing innocent animals, it can't truly be
I really had high hopes for the RSPO as it continued to make strides in cleaning up the
industry. I thought I one day would buy items containing "sustainable palm oil." That
is no longer an option in my mind. Pretty much any company can "buy" a
membership to the roundtable and there isn't much of verification process. That in
itself isn't unique--it is much like PETA in that respect.
Are cosmetics companies listening?
Not really. Lush, a rather unnatural "natural" products company, has taken steps to
eliminate palm oil. They came out with Green Wash, a palm oil free melt and pour
soap. There was all sorts of hoopla, but when you consider that this also was made
of propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and EDTA, I would not try it. All of their
other soaps contain those harsh ingredients and palm oil.
Burt's Bees, a company I used to love and have so much respect for, used to list this
oil on their soaps. Now the ingredients list simply begins with "vegetable soap
base"....a clever way to avoid saying "palm oil" for less savvy consumers.
What can you do?
*You can read the ingredients labels religiously. If ingredients are not listed, don't buy.
There are options. You just need to spend a bit of time exploring them.
*You can ask your favorite company to consider replacing other oils for palm. It truly
isn't necessary to make a good bar of soap.
*You can use beeswax or soy wax instead of palm when buying candles and tarts
(although I no longer recommend soy wax. Read here to learn why.)
*Don't eat margarine or shortening, is palm oil is often used in this. You typical
"vegetable oil" at the grocery store almost always contains palm as well.
The Bottom Line:
If you are an animal lover, chances are you avoid companies that conduct animal
testing. You may not use products with carmine (crushed insects used to color
lipstick and blush). Why is palm oil any different? The bottom line is that we need, in
my opinion, to educate ourselves when it comes to what we rub into our skin, put on
our faces, shampoo or hair with, etc.
A conscious effort is made by most of us to pay attention to the foods we put into
our bodies. We want to be healthy. We want to be eco-friendly. We don't want
animals to be killed so our soap can be firm.
At what cost, though, to have softer skin or a longer lasting bar of soap? Is it worth
it? There are so many fats (oils) out there derived through humane methods that we
could choose to use instead. Olive oil...coconut oil...rice bran...sweet
almond...grapeseed....apricot...jojoba... macadamia nut....kukui...so many more!
Hemp Seed Oil is a wonderfully nourishing, yet cruelty-free and eco-friendly oil.
About The Author
Karley Ziegler Mott
I had a favorite stuffed animal as a child, Herman. Herman was a stuffed orangutan
from Washington, DC's National Zoo Gift Shop. I wanted that one because I always
thought orangutans were "cute". I would hate to think that because I wanted a
harder bar of soap or a creamy, yet firm lipstick that I would be contributing to the
probable extinction of animals within my lifetime.
I am a proponent of natural
ingredients. In most cases, I believe
using natural oils, butters, a
plant-based ingredients in our beauty
products is best. There are
exceptions to this rule when it comes
to animal cruelty and deforestation.
Palm oil contributes to both.
If you're using natural products and
regularly buy cold processed soaps,
chances are palm oil is on the
ingredients label. It is also found in
"eco-friendly" candles and tarts. Palm
wax is growing in popularity over the
past couple years because it delivers
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