Troubling, seemingly ubiquitous palm oil

Oil palm: nursery

An oil palm nursery in Borneo. Photo by Flickr user DrLianPinKoh, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

The current issue of the Willy Street Co-op Reader includes a thoughtful article by Kirsten Moore titled, “Palm Oil: Making Sense of the Controversy.” As she describes,

Our relationship with palm oil began in the mid-1800s in Indonesia and Malaysia, where we discovered the oil palm was very rich in oil that could serve multiple purposes from making soap to fueling a steam engine. Palm oil yields average about 6000 liters per hectare, far beyond other edible oils (more than eight times that of soybeans), making it an oil that requires a lot less space to farm and a very cheap oil in the global market. Palm oil also has a longer shelf life than other oils. Virgin red palm oil has recently earned a healthy reputation for a very high antioxidant capacity of beta-carotene, tocotrienols, tocopherols and Vitamin E. Sounds great, right? … Not so fast.”

Moore goes on to consider a wide array of health, environment, and social justice concerns with most current palm oil production, alongside benefits and alternative production models. The issues are worth considering, since—as Moore details—”The overall use of palm oil has grown exponentially since the 1960s, rising from about a half million to over two million tons in the 1980s, and over 48 million tons in the mid-2000s. In 2005, palm oil surpassed soya as the world’s most produced vegetable oil.” For the full article, head here.

For more, check out these earlier posts of mine that touch on the subject of palm oil:

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