Why We Don't Use Palm Oil Blog Post

Why We Don’t Use Palm Oil

Why We Don’t Use Palm Oil in Our Products

The Palm Oil controversary continues and shows no sign of letting up. Why is this raw ingredient so controversial, and what, if anything, can the consumer do about it? It may help to point out the history of palm oil and its growth in popularity over the years. Only then will it become clear why we don’t want to use palm oil.

History of Palm Oil

Elaeis guineensis, or the African Oil Palm, is one of the most common and prolific raw materials grown today. It has been around for thousands of years. Originating in Africa, where it is a common cooking oil, it is now grown throughout Southeast Asia and South America. During the Industrial Revolution, it was used as a lubricant. Both palm fruit oil and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fat (49% and 81%, respectively), which makes it a popular shelf-stable ingredient in processed foods. It is also relatively low in cost. In fact, palm oil is found in everything from baked goods to personal care products to gasoline and biofuels. As a result, palm oil plantations have exploded in growth over the past ten years.

Because it does not contain trans fats, its use exploded after trans fats were declared unhealthy by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there is some controversy over whether palm oil is a healthier substitute for trans fats in our diets. After all, palm oil is high in saturated fat, which is implicated in higher LDL and triglyceride levels than, say, polyunsaturated oils like olive oil.

Environmental Impact of Palm Oil

Oil palms are grown by the thousands as a monocrop. As with any such operation, large quantities of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides are often used, which leaves an indelible mark on air, water, soil and farmers’ health. Another serious problem has to do with deforestation. The world’s rainforest are hosts to hundreds of animal species that rely on them for their survival. The rampant deforestation taking place in places like Indonesia (the largest producer), Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra threaten keystone species like the Orangutan. They are now at risk for total extinction. This should not be. Rainforest destruction also results in an increase in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere through clear-cutting and burning. We need our rainforests to sequester CO2 and to contribute to biodiversity and habitats for many endangered species.

Can We Eliminate Palm Oil?

This would be a challenge because palm oil and its by-products are everywhere. It is easier to find palm oil in processed foods than in cleaning products or personal care products, because its byproducts have many names. Many product labels will not list palm oil specifically, but will list an ingredient by its chemical, or INCI, name. For example, Stearic acid, a common skincare ingredient, is derived from palm oil. Some beauty bars and cosmetics may list sodium palmate, which is another name for saponified palm oil. Squalene and some tocopherols, also common in skincare products, may be derived from palm oil. The curious consumer would have to contact the manufacturer to find out if palm oil byproducts are being used. One way to do it is with the help of the Codecheck Food & Cosmetics Scanner app, available on iTunes and Google Play.
At WEBA Natural Products, we have made every effort to source sustainable raw materials that do not contain palm oil. Our bar soaps are one of the few manufactured in the United States that are free of palm oil and palm kernel oil. Luckily, there are alternative raw materials available that are sourced from olive, sunflower and coconut oils instead of palm oil. These ingredients may cost more, but we believe that saving our precious rainforests more than makes up for the added cost. We believe that our consumers will think so, too.

Grist article on palm oil and rainforests
Saynotopalmoil.com information
Wikipedia information about palm oil
FDA page on the use of palm oil
Harvard Health Letter article on palm oil

Palm oil fruit from oil palm plantation