The Zoological Society of Hertfordshire (ZSH) and Paradise Wildlife park (PWP) are committed to supporting a shift in demand from unsustainable to certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), avoiding a blanket boycott. Unsustainable palm oil production is now one of the leading global threats to wildlife in palm oil producing areas, resulting in rapid deforestation and biodiversity loss across many tropical countries, particularly in South East Asia. We do however recognise the importance of the palm oil industry within economies of developing countries, as well as understanding palm oil is the cheapest, highest yielding and most versatile vegetable oil on the market. Along with many other conservation organisations we believe boycotting palm oil would increase demand for other, less efficient, edible oils and displace negative environmental impacts elsewhere. With growing media attention around this subject, we wanted to better explain why a blanket boycott of palm oil is not the simple answer!
What is the problem with Palm Oil?
Palm oil is currently the world’s most widely used vegetable oil, originating from the fruit of oil palm trees, native to Central Africa. Despite originating in Central Africa, oil palm trees are now grown across the world in tropical climates to meet global demand. Palm oil is a cheap and versatile oil with many different properties and functions allowing it to be used in a huge range of products, from toothpaste to chocolate. Around 50% of all products in an average UK supermarket contain palm oil! Because of this huge demand vast areas of rainforest are being cleared to make room for palm oil plantations. Such plantations are not able to support native wildlife, and as a result animal numbers in these areas are falling fast. 193 critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species are impacted globally by the production of palm oil including the iconic Sumatran Tiger (1).
Why don’t we just stop using palm oil?
The impacts of palm oil production present a huge conservation challenge, and the first instinct of many is to encourage a blanket boycott. It is however important to remember that there are some major benefits to using palm oil.
We must demand sustainable palm oil or producers will not have the motivation to produce it!
What is sustainable palm oil?
ZSH and PWP, alongside other conservation organisations, are now promoting the use of sustainably sourced palm oil. Sustainable palm oil is produced in a way which minimises negative environmental impacts, protecting habitats and species as well as benefiting local people. The most widely recognised certification scheme is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Palm oil produced according to RSPO standards, as of 2018, is required to be deforestation-free. Manufacturers, retailers and traders all over the world have made bold commitments to removing deforestation from their supply chains. The RSPO have environmental standards, reducing the impacts palm oil has on the environment and biodiversity, and social standards, ensuring members are adhering to high standards of human rights. One example standard is producers of palm oil need to stop converting rainforest, peatland and other sensitive natural habitats to palm oil plantations. Yields should instead be increased on existing plantations, and expansion is limited to degraded land not classified as High Conservation Value or High Carbon Stock. Only 19% of palm oil produced is currently certified as sustainable by the RSPO (2).
The RSPO recognises four supply chain models for its certified palm oil (2):
What are we doing at ZSH and PWP?
We at ZSH and PWP are working hard towards a more sustainable future! We are currently assessing our products onsite, aiming to support manufacturers and suppliers that are either already using, or looking into using certified sustainable palm oil only. It is important we work with these manufacturers and suppliers and educate those unaware of schemes, such as RSPO, to increase the quantity of CSPO used globally. We are happy to change manufacturers and suppliers if any refuse to assist us on our path towards the use of CSPO only.
It is also very important to educate our visitors on the issues surrounding palm oil. Most of our visitors are unaware that there is an alternative to unsustainable palm oil and believe a boycott of this vegetable oil is the only solution. By engaging with these visitors, we can educate them on the complex issue that is palm oil production, helping them to make informed decisions in their everyday lives. Changing our consumer habits is the biggest way we can help achieve change.
What can you do at home?
(1)- Meijaard, E. et al. (eds.) (2018). Oil palm and biodiversity. A situation analysis by the IUCN Oil Palm Task Force. IUCN Oil Palm Task Force Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
(2)- RSPO, 2019. RSPO Supply Chains. [online] Available at: www.rspo.org/certification [Accessed 9th Dec. 2019].