One week withou palm oil
The great unknownOne week without palm oil
A silver bullet
Cosmetics are also full of it. And candles. The oil's chemical properties make it even ideal for the production of surfactants, which help with dirt removal, in detergents.
And palm oil is cheap. In fact, it's the cheapest vegetable oil on the market today.
Because of that palm oil is even used in animal feed - making each piece of meat you eat, indirectly, a palm oil product. Or think of fuel: it's not necessarily rapeseed oil that is powering your car, it's palm oil too.
In 1970, global palm oil production was only one million tons
Only about every fourth ton of palm oil imported into Europe comes from an allegedly sustainable source.
Palm oil kills
The problem lies really with the impact of oil production. Giant swathes of rainforest are cut down and turned into a monoculture. They are still green because the oil palms have green leaves, but it doesn't offer more in terms of biodiversity. Actually, the impact on ecosystems in the countries, where palm oil plantations are established, is devastating, I learn in my research. I see pictures of flattened earth, where lush, green rainforests once stood. Harmful pesticides are also used. Everything is done for profit.
Palm oil in your cookies?
Am I lucky?
Green palm oil?
To determine whether palm oil can be declared 'sustainable' or not, many parameters have to be included in the calculation. Is the palm oil produced in a monoculture, or does the rainforest remain untouched? Which fertilizers are used to which extent? Are pesticides used? Do different production standards apply to different markets? And what are farmers getting out of it? Can they make a living growing this crop?
The conservation group WWF has launched the best known and most controversial certification standard, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The standard is adopted by many big players in the market, including supermarket chains.
The main producers
Not enough space?
Would it not be possible, at least in Europe, to exchange palm oil for another local oil? I asked Ilka Peterson of the WWF. It's not that easy, she says. There is simply not enough free space.
But critics of the WWF concept disagree: Sven Selbert is one of them. He works for the environmental protection organization Robin Wood.
Is change possible?
Melt in your mouth
The same goes for palm kernel oil, which is obtained from the kernels of the plant's fruit. As one of the solid vegetable fats, it melts from 23 degrees.
So, if you've ever wondered why your favourite chocolate is so extra smooth, that's the reason.
However, both of these advantages over other vegetable oils make it hard for those seeking an alternative.
Searching for alternatives
Native to the rainforests of West Africa, Portuguese sailors brought word of the palm tree to Europe in 1466. Almost 200 years later, the first palm tree made it's way to Europe and Asia, initially as an ornamental plant.
As the tree thrives best with plenty of light and water in loose soil, conditions in Asia proved perfect. Adding temperatures of around 25 degrees Celsius, palm trees grow fast and they can grow to be 120 years old.