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Palm Oil

In a large-scale consumer survey across the UK population on perceptions of vegetable oils, palm oil was deemed to be the least environmentally-friendly.1 It wasn’t even close. 41% of people thought palm oil was ‘environmentally unfriendly’, compared to 15% for soybean oil; 9% for rapeseed; 5% for sunflower; and 2% for olive oil. 43% also answered ‘Don’t know’, meaning that almost no one thought it was good.

Retailers know that this is becoming an important driver of consumer choices. From shampoos, to detergents, from chocolate to cookies, companies are trying to eliminate palm oil from their products. There are now long lists of companies that have done so [Google ‘palm-oil free’ and you will find an endless supply]. Many online grocery stores now offer the option to apply a ‘palm-oil free’ filter when browsing their products.2

Why are consumers turning their back on palm oil? And is this reputation justified?

In this article I address some key questions about palm oil production: how has it changed; where is it grown; and how this has affected deforestation and biodiversity. The story of palm oil is not as simple as it is often portrayed. Global demand for vegetable oils has increased rapidly over the last 50 years. Being the most productive oilcrop, palm has taken up a lot of this production. This has had a negative impact on the environment, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. But it’s not clear that the alternatives would have fared any better. In fact, because we can produce up to 20 times as much oil per hectare from palm versus the alternatives, it has probably spared a lot of environmental impacts from elsewhere.

Fuente: Our world in Data

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