On World Rainforest Day can we all try to check our larder, make time to read the back of the packets of biscuits, crackers and oat cakes, the alternative butter pots and anything else that might contain Palm Oil. Trying to find an alternative to your favourite foods is not easy and I know how hard it is to read the packets in the supermarket before you buy them especially if you don’t have your reading glasses to read the small print. But if we make a concerted effort it can be done. These companies that continue to use Palm oil in their products must be made to realize that people don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Rainforest every time they buy a packet of biscuits or a pot of butter. I have written to many of these companies and they try to fob me off with the words sustainable palm oil, there is no such thing. The rainforest was cut down in order for the plantation to be made, so calling it sustainable after the fact does not wash. The Palm Oil industry is huge and is responsible for cutting down more rainforest than anything else in the last twenty years.
Worldwide demand for palm oil has increased sharply over the last few years. With 54 million tons in 2011, it is the most widely produced vegetable oil worldwide. It has the highest yield of any oil crop and is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce and refine.
Its properties make it highly versatile in the food and chemical industries. It has a high melting point, making it smooth and easy to spread. Palm oil is contained in thousands of supermarket products.
More than 90 percent of the palm oil produced is used to manufacture food products, cosmetics, detergents and candles.
Since oil palms need a rainforest climate – consistently high humidity and temperatures – and a lot of land, plantations are often established at the expense of rainforests. About 90 percent (2011) of the world’s palm oil is currently being produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia’s oil palm plantations alone already cover nine million hectares, an area the size of the state of Maine. 26 million hectares are projected for 2025.
According to the report “The Last Stand of the Orangutan- State of Emergency: Illegal Logging, Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks” (published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Program UNEP), palm oil plantations are currently the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia: “A scenario released by UNEP in 2002 suggested that most natural rainforest in Indonesia would be degraded by 2032. Given the rate of deforestation in the past five years, and recent widespread investment in oil palm plantations and biodiesel refineries, this may have been optimistic. New estimates suggest that 98% of the forest may be destroyed by 2022, the lowland forest much sooner.”
Today, rainforest area the equivalent of 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour. This gives rise to numerous problems for the climate, environment, and people living in the forest:
Do not be fooled by names Whole Earth peanut butter contains Palm Oil, Meridian is Palm Oil free.
CO2 emissions – In preparing rainforest land for a palm oil plantation, the most valuable trees are cut down and removed first. What remains is cleared by burning. If the forest was on peatland – as is the case in much of Indonesia – the land is drained. Peatlands store vast quantities of carbon, and the conversion of a single hectare of Indonesian peatland rainforest releases up to 6,000 tons of CO2. Tropical deforestation is currently responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, making it a significant contributor to climate change (see 4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC).
Loss of biodiversity – Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands are among the world’s most species-rich environments and home to numerous endangered plants and animals, such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers and Bornean rhinos. The destruction of natural habitats deprives the animals of the basis for their existence, causing an irreversible loss of biological diversity.
Nairn’s Oatcakes and Bertolli contain Palm Oil.
Orangutans are particularly vulnerable because they are dependent on large contiguous forest areas. In search of food, they often get lost in the plantations, where they are regarded as pests. According to the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), at least 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death by palm oil plantation workers in 2006 alone. According to the UN, there is a risk that no wild orangutans will remain outside of protected areas by 2020.
Palm Oil Free butter spreads available in Lidle and Waitrose.
656 men and boys were enslaved in cages in Sumatra and forced to work in palm oil plantations under the guise of a drug rehabilitation program.
For more on this article by Richard paddock in the New York times Monday 19th June 2023: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/18/world/asia/indonesia-slavery-drugs.html
The largest palm oil producers: Major palm oil traders: The largest individual consumers of palm oil: Wilmar, IOI and Sinar Mas Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Henkel
According to its own figures, the Unilever Group alone consumes 1.6 million tons of palm oil every year (2008).
One way consumers can protect the rainforest is to avoid palm oil. For a list of palm oil-free products, visit
This information is available on the Rainforest Rescue Website:
Another good Rainforest charity to support is Rainforest Action Network.
Basically we must all try to avoid palm oil and complain to companies that use it. There are plenty of good alternatives to palm oil. These companies must be named and shamed. Orangutans will be extinct if we don’t act. They are losing their habitat and being clubbed to death by palm oil workers if they wander into palm oil plantations. This must be stopped, please do not be complacent about the products you buy it is important that we all try to stop using palm oil if we want to save the rainforests and wildlife that belong there.