There are many reasons people decide to pursue a vegan diet. Some are interested in the health benefits of a plant-based diet while others have concerns about animal welfare and/or the environment. Deciding which products to put in their basket, however, has become increasingly difficult for vegans as the amount of misinformation about palm oil on vegan-focused websites has grown.
Palm oil, of course, does not come from animals. It’s derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Some people in the vegan community, however, have chosen not to use palm oil or products made with palm oil derivatives because they associate it with practices that go against their vegan values. Yet coconut oil, which has directly contributed to species extinction, has not come under fire.
Instead of repeating inaccurate information, writers should consult unbiased third-party sources when writing articles and blogs about palm oil. Below are facts and sources for some of the most common topics.
Palm oil and animal welfare
Unlike annual oilseed crops, such as canola and corn which need to be cleared annually, oil palm trees grow for nearly 30 years before needing to be replaced, providing a stable home for wildlife.
Orangutans are often featured in passionate pleas against palm oil, however the orangutan population in at least one palm oil region, Malaysia, has been stable. More than 11,000 orangutans live safely in the Sabah region.
Palm oil and deforestation
According to Climate Focus, an international think-tank that provides data to shape climate policies, livestock, especially beef, is by far the largest driver of deforestation. Its report, Eliminating Deforestation from the Production of Agricultural Commodities, links beef, pigs and poultry, soy and corn to more deforestation than palm oil.
Moving to other oils to meet the global demand for fats and oil could negatively impact the environment. Oil palms require about 1/10th the amount of land to produce the same amount of oil than the far less efficient soy or canola crops.
Palm oil and global warming
Malaysia, a top palm oil producer, is a net carbon sink, thanks in great part to its oil palm plantations which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere daily. By comparison, the livestock industry, which uses 300 times more land than oil palms, is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s global warming effect, even higher than the emissions from planes, trains and automobiles. According to the United Nations, “It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.”