Palm Oil is Bad for Iowa

Palm Oil Extraction Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Palm Oil Extraction Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, Feb. 5, the benchmark crude palm-oil future contract traded on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives exchange reached its highest level since May 2014, according to NASDAQ.

Traders were feeling bullish as warm, dry weather caused by El Niño in the region receded from the prime palm plantations in Sumatra, Borneo and other parts of Indonesia.

These palm oil producing regions are half a world away, yet they matter to Iowa more than one knows.

The use of palm oil for cooking is in direct competition with soybean oil, including Iowa-grown soybeans traded on international markets. In a recent interview, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said one out of four rows of Iowa soybeans are bound for international sales.

“India, the world’s largest importer of cooking oils, will buy more soybean and sunflower oil this year (2015) than ever before as a global glut weakens prices and prompts buyers to switch from palm oil,” according to Bloomberg News.

Because of the decline in farm commodity prices, current trends may favor soybeans over palm, but at the expense of soybean farmers. There is a clear case to be made to avoid products like chocolate, ice cream, detergent, soap and cosmetics that contain palm oil and its derivatives as a way to support Iowa farmers.

What matters more is deforestation to expand the cultivation of palm trees. Using a slash and burn methodology to clear equatorial rain forest for palm plantations, the haze covering Indonesia was visible from space.  While haze may be viewed as a temporary inconvenience, deforestation has a direct impact on the planet’s capacity to process atmospheric carbon dioxide. That’s not to mention the loss of habitat and biodiversity, as well as release of carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere.

From logging, agricultural production and other economic activities, deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads, according to Scientific American.

“The reason that logging is so bad for the climate is that when trees are felled they release the carbon they are storing into the atmosphere, where it mingles with greenhouse gases from other sources and contributes to global warming accordingly,” the article said. “The upshot is that we should be doing as much to prevent deforestation as we are to increase fuel efficiency and reduce automobile usage.”

Most corporate food conglomerates use or have used palm oil and its derivatives as an ingredient. What’s a person to do?

The first recourse in Iowa is the power of the purse. Avoid purchasing products with palm oil because it competes with Iowa-grown soybeans, and is a contributor to climate disruption. There is no such thing as sustainably grown palm oil.

Palm oil and its derivatives go under many names. A list of alternate names for palm oil can be found here along with a handy wallet sized printout.

Here is a list that discusses use of palm oil in various consumer products.

Explore the Rainforest Action Network web site, beginning with this link. There is a lot of information about the issue and actions you can take to address the most pressing aspects of deforestation.

While Indonesia may seem distant, what goes on there and in other equatorial palm plantations matters here in Iowa.

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