Sustainable palm oil is produced in an environmentally low impact way. There is an expanding market for palm oil, and the farming of the oil palm tree has threatened large areas of rainforest and some species of animals. If palm oil production continues to rise, sustainable palm oil production will be necessary to protect wildlife as well as the palm oil industry.
Originating from the fruit of the oil palm tree, palm oil is cultivated in tropical regions such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The oil palm tree can produce two different types of oil: palm oil, which is made from the fruit of the plant and palm kernel oil, which comes from the inner solid core of the fruit. Some consider palm oil to be a healthier alternative to traditional cooking oils, as it is cholesterol free and has no trans fats. Today, palm oil is used as a cooking oil and in many processed foods, such as baked goods, candy bars, and ice creams.
Due to recent public concern about the damaging effects of trans fats on human health, many food manufacturers have started to replace traditional cooking oils with palm oil, which contains no trans fats. Palm oil production has risen dramatically because of this, and in 2011, it is soon expected to be the most widely produced edible oil in the world.
Although beneficial to humans in many ways, palm oil production creates a number of environmental problems. Since it has become such a popular commodity in recent years, farmers who produce oil palms have needed to expand their farms. To do this they have cleared large amounts of rain forest area in order to plant more crops.
The destruction of rain forests to grow oil palms has lead to a number of environmental problems in these areas. Pollution from pesticides used on palm oil plantations as well as erosion caused by removal of rain forest trees has resulted in habitat damage far from the site of the farming. The habitat destruction involved in palm oil farming has resulted in numerous animal species becoming threatened or endangered, including the Sumatran tiger, several species of orangutans, the Asian elephant, and the Sumatran rhinoceros.
As a result of these dangerous environmental effects of palm oil production, many environmental groups are encouraging the growth and use of sustainable oil palm plantations. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an organization consisting of corporations working in the palm oil industry, works to promote more long term and environmentally friendly production practices. These include reducing erosion, monitoring of chemical use, maintaining clean water in the area, as well as considering the situation of endangered animals.
Although the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil works to promote environmentally sound palm oil production, some groups, such as Greenpeace, think their efforts are not enough. Some claim that the Roundtable’s standards are not effectively enforced. Groups such as these would like to see higher standards that promote what they consider highly and truly sustainable palm oil production.