Long-time palm oil detractors may be gradually accepting of sustainably produced palm oil, while shifting their environmental focus on other concerns, such as Brazlian beef and soy production. 

According to a 2021 report by the Center for Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) Studies, corporations’ previous concerns about palm oil and deforestation have been “substantially tempered by another trend – namely, positive developments in sustainable palm oil cultivation, potentially leading toward a new era of transparent supply chains, rejuvenated tropical forests, and international trade and collaboration.”

The report cites Malaysia’s positive contributions to reducing global deforestation. “Principal among these is Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), a mandatory national certification system. Most consumers are unaware that in the years since the introduction of this sustainability metric, Malaysia has enjoyed year-on-year decreases in the rate of deforestation since 2012, a striking development setting a good example for the rest.

Citing strides in palm oil sustainability, the authors note that even in the EU, where a palm oil ban has often been discussed, “the growing recognition [is] that the only viable way forward for palm oil (and other forest risk commodities) is for Europe and the wider world to support sustainable cultivation through cooperative partnerships with responsible producing countries.” 

However, the report says other edible commodities are lacking environmental responsibility. “Overall tropical deforestation continues apace, especially in South America (specifically, Brazil). Brazil is a major beef- and soy-producing country which, in turn, are leading drivers of tropical deforestation.”

This is consistent with other deforestation reports, such as from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Climate Focus. The FAO reports that livestock is a major driver of global deforestation.

The Malaysian palm oil industry is calling for equity in sustainability standards. While this call has specifically focused on other edible oils, it may one day expand to other crops. Notes the CSPO report, “While the European Union bans importation of palm oil for biofuels out of fear of contributing to deforestation, there is no such restriction on forest risk commodities such as beef, widely associated with deforestation. In fact, the European Union is actively pursuing trade agreements with countries associated with such deforestation.”