Palm oil: everywhere?

Have you ever heard of palm oil? Sounds pretty exotic, doesn’t it? But did you know that you eat it several times a week, maybe even every day? Have you ever checked the content label on the food you buy? Fifty percent of the packaged products in your local supermarket have palm oil in them. “Ok, that’s interesting”, you say. “But why is it a problem?” Come join us on a journey to far away Indonesia to find out more….

Half way around the world

Over 85 percent of palm oil comes from amazing Indonesia and Malaysia. Why are these countries amazing? Well, because they are home to the most precious rainforests on our planet! Did you know that orangutans are very unique animals and can be found only in Indonesia and nowhere else in the world? Southeast Asia also has many interesting tribes with great ethnic diversity. Land is heritage and the local tribes and people have a right to use their traditional land - which is even established in international law.

What is happening now?

All of these palm oil plantations need to grow somewhere, and unfortunately it has been happening in these precious places. Enormous forests are cut down for wood and the land is then set ablaze, as this is the cheapest and fastest way to prepare the soil for future plantations. Oil palm plantations also produce pollution that can run off into rivers and contaminate the water. It’s not only animals that lose their homes because of the plantations – so do people! This creates social conflicts as they are pushed off their land.

The hidden rainforest in our biscuit

So now you see that there is a hidden rainforest in food that contains palm oil. More cookies and ice-cream with palm oil mean that more land is needed for plantations. And that leaves less land for people and the environment. From afar the plantations might even appear rather nice, but when you look close you will find that there are no animals, insects or birds left. That’s why they are called “green deserts”. Many producers are now moving to “new opportunities” in Africa and Latin America. Check out the map to see more.
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Be a detective!

Find palm oil in the ingredients - it’s easy! Change oil for the better! Ask food producers to take care of the environment and choose ingredients that are sustainable. They can either use local oils or palm oil with the highest level of certification. Certified oil means that rainforests were not newly cut down, the environment is better taken care of and people have not lost their land due to plantation expansion.
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And the simplest solution is…

… to eat whole food – it has fewer negative surprises! The fewer ultra-processed foods we eat, the better for our health and the better for the planet (and orangutans!). Moreover, there’s no need to check a multitude of complicated ingredients! Ultra-processed foods are unhealthy not only because of palm oil, but because they also contain very high levels of sugar and salt. We shouldn’t eat so much sugar, saturated fats and salt, as they can lead to obesity.


European Year for Development
Czech Development Agency

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