In the past, palm oil was considered ecological and was praised as a renewable raw material. But as so often, when the neck can never be filled enough, this eventually backfires. It was no different with the palm oil. The yield is high, the raw material cheap and so the demand increased rapidly. In the meantime, the days when palm oil was sustainable have long been a thing of the past: palm oil is by far the cheapest and most frequently produced vegetable oil in the world. Massware so. If global palm oil production still amounted to 26.9 million tons per year in 2002/2003, today it is 68.65 million tons.
Because the topic "palm oil" is more serious and current than ever, this blog article is dedicated to fighting fires. A few numbers will fall, but in the end you will shop differently.
Originally, the oil palm originated from West Africa and came to Malaysia with the colonization. Today, about 85% of global production comes from Malaysia and Indonesia.
In a tropical rainforest climate, it thrives well and delights us humans with two kinds of oils: palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the oil palm; From the ground seeds, the fat, which is then further processed into palm kernel oil (in the following we remain for simplicity in the term palm oil). Their oil yield per hectare, unlike other oils, is quite high and that makes them a fantastic raw material for the industry. In addition, the oil after appropriate treatment (refined and deodorized) tasteless, odorless and colorless and long lasting. Due to the high melting point, it remains solid at room temperature, but still spreadable and supple.
But not only because of the properties that are very advantageous for mass-produced goods, the industrialists are on the tropical oil, but also because of its low price, which can be found far away from any competition. Obtained and used as a cheap additive in bulk, palm oil is found in every second supermarket product ( forumpalmoel.org/imglib/Palmoelstudie%202017_Meo_FONAP_ho.pdf ), it is also burned in power plants for heat and power generation and as a biofuel for biodiesel and hydrogenated fuel used.
In total, EU countries import 6 million tonnes of palm oil annually; Germany alone refers to over one million tons. In 2017 Germany imported 1.12 million tonnes of palm oil directly and at least 695,000 tonnes indirectly as a component of intermediate or end products. Of these, 377,000 tonnes were exported from Germany. Applying the difference to each individual citizen results in an annual consumption of 17.3 kg of palm oil per capita.
A lot of palm oil is used up, correspondingly large are the palm plantations. They have to give way to species-rich ecosystems - the green lung of the earth, as it was once circumscribed, is removed. The gigantic oil palm monocultures cover approximately 27 million hectares of rainforest on the equator. That is three quarters of the area of Germany.
An area for which space has to be created first. Practically, the palm oil and tropical timber industries work well together, and the sale of tropical timber can help finance the investment costs of producing oil palm plantations. After the path has been cleared free, leftovers are often burned uncontrollably, which releases a lot of CO2. The soil has no root system that keeps it and is washed away by heavy rain.
The palm oil lobby continues to argue with the ecology of oil palms; they require a lot of yield but relatively little acreage (compared to other plants).
Two indisputable facts remain: 1. Oil palms grow in the rainforest areas of the equator, and for the large-scale plantations, the diversity of nature with its plant and animal species is destroyed. 2. Basically, it is simply wrong to divide the earth into supposedly cheap growing areas in order to use their products globally. In fact, it is the most normal thing in the world that everyone grows their staple food and not at the expense of others.
And what about organic palm oil? The use of chemical fertilizers, genetic engineering and pesticides is banned in organic farming, yet the industry dominated by their monocultures and the cultivation of organic palm oil.
When governments grant forest royalties to oil palm corporations, there is often an abuse of power and corruption associated with them. In many cases, the forest is also cut down illegally in order to be able to plant plantations. In Southeast Asia, the expansion of oil palm plantations is the highest state goal; Palm oil industry and politics form a kind of symbiosis here.
Policies and industry are also working together in EU countries and are engaged in lobbying. Palm oil associations put seemingly sustainably produced palm oil through greenwashing as good and the Federal Government is also involved in the forum for sustainable palm oil.
In 2008, WWF founded the RSPO, a Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil, where 951 traders, producers, investors, banks and processors meet 40 non-profit organizations.
The goal of this merger is to give palm oil production and its sales a more sustainable face. The RSPO is not only humorous, but also resourceful. For example, rainforest clearing is not excluded. If a rainforest area was cleared before 2008, it can be converted into a certified oil palm plantation. Areas that are to be cleared after 2008 are only excluded if they are considered "particularly worthy of protection". Which area is particularly worthy of protection is decided by an expert commissioned and paid by the palm oil companies. Absolutely untouched forests are considered particularly worthy of protection. Forests in which a small, indigenous people live are already influenced by humans and may then be cleared.
The social aspects that comprise the RSPO standards are general human rights - which are self-evident. Climate protection is not included in the standards. And just like the expert in areas of special protection, the certifiers who check compliance with the self-imposed standards are also commissioned and paid directly by the oil companies. Independent supervisory bodies are not involved. In 2008, the Swiss Palm Oil Coalition published a dossier that exposes the RSPO as a label swindler. It states that the RSPO guidelines are weak, insufficiently implemented and fail to work, as they allow the destruction of bogs and forests or the introduction of highly toxic pesticides. The Swiss coalition is not alone in this opinion. In total, 256 human rights and environmental organizations rejected the RSPO in the same year. In the end, the Round Table serves greenwashing and thus becomes the legitimacy for politics and industry to meet the (self-generated) rising demand.
The oil and the people
The oil boom has developed into an oil spill that affects people in many ways. The inhabitants in the cultivation areas lose land and livelihood; Not infrequently, they are threatened, imprisoned or forcibly evicted. In 2015, Spiegel Online reported about 5,000 land disputes that are being fought in Indonesia alone, and some of which are bloody end, due to the palm oil industry.
Peoples like Suku Anak Dalam (Sumatra's last forest nomads) shelter under plastic tarpaulins in something resembling a refugee camp or sleeping in trenches. You are traumatized; it lacks food and water.
To violations of this kind is also the slash and burn - which would be back to the fire. As the fires spread in the adjacent areas, smoke and pollutants threaten the health of the people living there; Children, sick and old people are particularly at risk.
If the inhabitants are not affected by all of this, they may be lured to work on the plantations with empty promises to end up in forced labor. Thousands of children are also reported to be affected and have to work on fronts.
And how does the oil spill affect us?
Palm oil consists of 50% saturated fatty acids. Known as "fattening", they can also be responsible for heart disease and high cholesterol. Palm kernel oil is even 80% saturated fatty acids; this is used for glazes and caramel.
When palm oil has been refined, it often contains high levels of so-called fatty acid esters; they are considered carcinogenic. Both the European Food Safety Authority EFSA and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warn against including these pollutants of palm oil.
Much of this polluted palm oil is found in chocolate or nut nougat spreads, baby substitute milk and baby food. Just as dangerous as harmful to health - but their body weight in relation to the mitverzehrten pollutant levels is much lower than our adults.
The oil and you
It's a lot of things that have to change. This concerns the cultivation of palm oil as well as our consumption. Also at this point is "conscious consumption" the magic word. If palm oil were to be stubbornly and uncritically replaced by other vegetable oils, the problems would merely be shifted rather than resolved. Rapeseed, soy or coconut palms are less productive, but require more area. What needs to change is the sense of responsibility - that of the industrialist and our own.
A boycott would not be a solution. A critical examination of the topic as well as a conscious consumption would be a first step; less ready meals and sweets a second.
Since 2014, the mandatory labeling of palm oil in food has come into force. It is with goodwill and a little commitment to read through the contents of the packaging. The fact that palm oil is contained in half of all supermarket products means that there is also the other half - the alternatives without palm oil.