What’s your approach to palm oil when grocery shopping?

Palm oil is highly controversial, being linked to many environmental, social and ethical concerns. With it being found in so many foods, it’s difficult to know what the best approach is when shopping.

On one hand, palm oil is seen as causing deforestation and endangering many species including orangutans, with palm oil plantations being linked to 47% of deforestation in Malaysia and 16% of deforestation in Indonesia between 1972 and 2015 (source ).

On the other hand, palm oil accounted for only 0.2% of global deforestation between 2000 and 2013 (source ). With yields several times higher than other oil crops, might it be better to use palm oil than use even more land to grow other oils? Is palm oil being unfairly vilified?

While “sustainable” palm oil is available through various schemes such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, there remains controversy over the extent to which these schemes truly make a difference as long as a market remains for non-certified palm oil.
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A few considerations to add to the mix. All free oils and fats - even olive oil - are unhealthy re cardiovascular health, particularly endothelial health, and where they appear in a diet already containing much fat. It is worth considering a wholefood no-oil diet, pref. vegan.

Oils also occupy food volume, displacing healthier nutrients.

All plant oils are concentrated plant material, meaning inefficiencies in any use of water, fertilisers, and pesticides relative to eating whole plants.

Of course, what can appear a small deforestation figure can be locally devastating to species and people.

Colonialism, and how locals move forward and make money with alternative crops should be in the mix. Working conditions and inequality are considerations.

Certifications may cover forest where there’s little left to deforest or where peat remains an issue as in (Indonesia).