Palm Oil: an Overview

"Demand for palm oil is growing - and fast. At the moment, most of it ends up in hundreds of food products - from margarine and chocolate to cream cheese and oven chips - although it's also used in cosmetics and increasingly, for use in biodiesel. But the cost to the environment and the global climate is devastating - to feed this demand, tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations." (greenpeace.org.uk)

Groups like the America Palm Oil Council assert the benefits of palm oil production and consumption, highlighting these positive factors:
  •  Health benefits: a source of bodily energy, protector against diseases, free of transfatty acids, cholesterol free, and rich with antioxidants.
  • Oil palm forests provide habitats to many species of flora and fauna.
  • Yields 10 times more than other oil seeds, and oil palms can effectively produce for up to 25 years of their lifespans.
  • Versatility: used in a number of products such as food, soaps, cosmetics, etc.
  • Can be made into bio diesel.  
On the other hand, environmental groups (such as Greenpeace) point out the negative effects of the palm oil industry:
  • As palm oil continues to be harvested in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, rain forests also continue to disappear in order to provide space for oil palm plantations.
  • Contributes to the destroying of biodiversity and introducing "large amounts of pesticide and manure." (dw-world.de) 
  • The peatlands in Indonesia "only cover 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth, but thanks in part to the activities of the palm oil industry they contribute 4 per cent to global emissions." And as the palm oil industry becomes more prominent, that amount is expected to rise. (greenpeace.org.uk)
  • Negative social impacts: conflict between palm oil companies and local communities, displacement of communities for oil palm plantations.  
To learn more about these groups' stances and causes, and palm oil in general, these sites are a great place to start.  The first step toward making a decision is to be informed.
http://www.americanpalmoil.com/
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/palm-oil
http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5072916,00.html

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