Palm oil is in thousands of products under several names. It's the most heavily utilized vegetable oil in the world. Cultivated from fruit of oil palm trees, it's a highly efficient oil producer and found in nearly half of supermarket products from baked goods to cereals, margarine and cosmetics, not to mention industrial feedstock. It's tough to avoid but its cultivation is creating one of the worst ecological disasters the world has known.
Palm oil plantation developers destroy large areas of forest rich with biodiversity and essential for conservation and turn them into monocultures--growing only oil palm trees. They clear cut rain forests and sell the wood to finance the plantation for the three years it takes the planted oil palm trees to start bearing fruit. All the wildlife in this area is either threatened by the loss of its habitat or killed off for food or other uses. Great apes and elephants are particularly in danger because they are slow-moving and easy targets.
Responsibly, sustainably-farmed oil exists in theory, and the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been formed but the problems are still rampant. There is no policing of their policies, the oil produced under its label caries a premium price and it probably only constitutes five percent of the world's palm oil production. Furthermore, unscrupulous producers can hide under the label of "responsibly farmed" but their production continues to be a disaster for elephants, tigers, and great apes.
Sumatran Rain Forest today:
The crisis is a complex issue but the best way to do your part is to start reducing your palm oil consumption by avoiding products using palm oil. Look for ones made with butter from pasture-raised cows or with cocoa butter. Nuubia San Francisco avoids the use of all palm oil products.
Educate yourself on the crisis palm oil is producing through some of these links: