What is Palm Oil?
If you look at any type of consumer product you have at home, cosmetics, food, cleaning products, you are most likely to find palm oil as a listed ingredient. Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit. Palm oil is globally traded and is used in 50% of all consumer goods in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, accounting for 65% of all vegetable oil traded internationally. By 2020, the use of palm oil is expected to double.
What’s the problem?
Palm oil is produced throughout tropical rainforests on the continents of Asia, Africa and South America, with 85% of palm oil grown in Indonesia and Malaysia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. The large-scale production of palm oil is linked to major social and environmental issues such as the threatening of indigenous livelihoods, climate change, deforestation and habitat degradation.
How does palm oil affect some of my favorite animals?
The rainforests where palm oil is produced is also home to thousands of species of wildlife. Rainforests provide critical habitat to species including highly endangered Sumatran tigers, Sumatran Elephants, orangutans, sun bears and gibbons. Not only do these animals lose their homes, but they also can be injured, killed and displaced during deforestation. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the greater zoo community designated 2015 the Year of the Gibbon due to their increasingly endangered status due to deforestation, largely for mass-scale palm oil production. Scientists are predicting that gibbons will be the first ape species to go extinct in our lifetime.
How does the Columbian Park Zoo feel about the palm oil industry?
The Columbian Park Zoo is home to four gibbons and to create awareness of the palm oil crisis we hosted a birthday party for Zeke, our male-gibbon, in May 2015. Our family-friendly event included several activities to educate the public on palm oil and its effect on the environment. The Columbian Park Zoo is dedicated to informing the public on ways they can help save endangered wildlife by choosing sustainable palm oil options. Although palm oil plantations and the palm oil industry is a great threat to wildlife species, it also plays an important role for the future economic growth of third world countries. Boycotting palm oil completely can have significant negative effects on the livelihoods and economies of nations where palm oil is its main industry. Instead of boycotting we suggest shopping responsibly by choosing sustainable palm oil products and supporting companies that are committed to transforming the industry.
I love the Columbian Park Zoo gibbons and other wildlife species, what can I do to help?
As a consumer and animal-lover, you can reduce your contribution to the impact of palm oil by making simple lifestyle changes every day. Next time you’re at the grocery store, stop and look at the ingredient list. Palm oil can be hidden behind many different names including:
- Cetyl Palmitate
- Elaeis Guineensis
- Epoxidized Palm Oil (UV cured coatings)
- Ethylhexyl Palmitate
- Hydrated Palm Glycerides
- Octyl Palmitate
- Palm Oil
- Palm Fruit Oil
- Palm Kernel
- Palm Kernel Oil
- Palm Stearine
- Palmitic Acid
- Palmityl Alcohol
- Palmitoyl Oxostearamide
- Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
- Saponified Elaeis Guineensis
- Sodium Kernelate
- Sodium Palm Kernelate
- Sodium Palmate.
To help regulate the production of palm oil and create a guideline of sustainable practices, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed to promote the growth and use of certified sustainable palm oil. When grocery shopping, look for the RSPO stamp of approval on your product to be sure that they are certified sustainable. You can also download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's free Palm Oil Shopping Guide app which helps identify each product and rates them based on their use of palm oil.