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  • Writer's pictureDoug Hull

Palm-less Oil

The fact that Palm Oil comes from a plant called the Oil Palm has a symmetrical poetry about it. Palm Oil is more than poetic, it is also a wonder product found in everything from ice-creams to make-up to detergents to instant noodles. While incredibly useful, it is unfortunately also the cause of widespread deforestation especially in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia where land is cleared to make way for Oil Palm plantations. This clearing of natural vegetation causes significant biodiversity loss in some of the most species-rich rain forests in the world. The World Wildlife Fund claims that 43% of Sumatra's Tesso Milo National Park, which was established to protect the endangered Sumatran Tiger, has now been taken over by illegal oil palm plantations. This type of deforestation also results in the removal of essential carbon sinks which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Then there is the massive amount of air pollution caused by the large-scale burning of the forests. So how do you tackle a problem like this where financial incentives push communities into unsustainable practices?

Eliminating oil palm farming completely may seem attractive, however this is not a viable solution since many communities depend on it for their livelihoods. Oil palms have very high yields compared to other crops grown for their oils, and can be grown in areas unsuitable for other crops. This makes them a popular crop, and farmers can make good money out of them. While the overwhelming perception of the industry is negative, there are responsible palm oil producers out there who are growing the palms in a sustainable manner and supporting farming communities. Consumers should look for the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) label on products containing palm oil to ensure ethical sourcing.

Outside of ethical farming, another solution to the Palm Oil dilemma has now arrived on the scene. I recently stumbled across a company called C16 BioSciences that claims to create "High performance ingredients without compromise, made for the world’s leading consumer goods manufacturers". This includes a version of Palm Oil called 'Palmless' which is produced by fermentation processes using fungi in controlled environments. With zero rainforest destruction! This struck me as an amazing solution with significant environmental benefits. Cost information is not easily accessible for the C16 version of palm oil, but hopefully it will also make financial sense to purchase fermented palm oil rather than the destructive variety, thus making it even more attractive.

The world needs creativity and resourcefulness to drive positive change in a warming and increasingly polluted world. When cost-effective alternatives are available there really is no excuse to support unethical practices. With enough investment into research in the right areas, I have no doubt we will see many more creative solutions, like Palmless, in the future.

Until next time!


The Regeneralist

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