Why is palm oil not vegan?

  • Author: Ben
  • Date: May 28, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Palm oil is a little contentious about whether it is vegan or not. Most vegans believe it is not and avoid purchasing it. So read on to find out why is palm oil not vegan, and you can make your own decision as to whether you want palm oil in your vegan diet.

Why is palm oil not vegan?

The palm fruit is the source of palm oil.

These fruits are found in the African oil palm trees.

Because the source is a fruit tree, at first blush you would think that palm oil is vegan. This could be true.

However, the production of palm oil and the industry, in general, are seen as being hurtful to animals. Specifically, it may cause them distress or injury, or habitat displacement, and therefore palm oil should be avoided.

Environmental concerns are another factor in ruling out palm oil as vegan too. Creating large enough fruit plantations to develop palm oil results in huge swathes of natural rainforest being decimated to provide the land for cultivation.

One knock-on effect is that it negatively affects oxygen production due to the destroyed rainforests. Also, it causes some animals to reach near extinction when their natural habitat is removed by deforestation.

Nevertheless, palm oil is found in an incredible number of food products. Both ones are labeled as vegan and many are not.

Which animals are affected by palm oil cultivation?

Where the African oil palm trees grow plentifully, a wide variety of species of animals flourish too.

A considerable number of these animals are on the endangered list, threatened with extinction. Both animals and insects as well suffer due to deforestation and land clearance of rainforests to make way for palm fruit plantations.

The non-inclusive list of animals affected includes:

  • Bears
  • Rhinos
  • Orangutans
  • Elephants
  • Tigers
  • Monkeys
  • Leopards

Orangutans are apes that have been hit particularly hard by the excessive production of palm oil. Where they once numbered over 300,000 population several decades ago is now reduced to less than 50,000.

These apes also face additional threats from construction, mining, new housing, and logging too.

What Is the Environmental Impact of farming Palm Oil?

African oil palm trees require large land parcels to grow. Tropical rainforests are frequently destroyed to reuse the land to ultimately extract the oil.

One-fifth of the oxygen on Earth is generated by rainforests. The process of destroying them to put palm trees in their place removes this essential activity.

Rainforests provide a stabilizing effect on the Earth’s climate, and natural cycles, including water provision. Their loss will have dire consequences on the sustainability of the planet as we know it.

For human health, the rainforests also are a source of food and natural medicine for local inhabitants and other people too. Their enormous size acts as a barrier to flash flooding across these enormous landmasses and stops the introduction of droughts too.

Is Sustainable Palm Oil OK?

Palm oil can be produced using methods described above that are so damaging. Nevertheless, new approaches have been developed to avoid habitat destruction. This is referred to interchangeably as ‘sustainable palm oil’ or ‘sustainable palm’.

Farmers involved with the production of palm oil from approved methods may use this labeling in the marketplace.

An organization known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) acts as a type of regulatory body for sustainable palm oil farming practices. They’re referred to by the acronym RSPO, though this may or may not be shown directly on the food packaging.

How is sustainable palm oil better or suitable for vegans?

The RSPO has a list of specific criteria that a farmer must meet to become a member of the RSPO organization. Only then can they officially label their palm oil are sustainably produced.

The criteria are as follows:

  • Best practices used within the sustainable palm oil industry.
  • Complies with all relevant regulations and laws for sustainable farming (and farming, generally).
  • Adopts the practice of total transparency in their operations.
  • A long-term, viable palm oil farming approach on the financial and economic side.
  • Regularly planting new crops
  • Biodiversity and natural resources are managed responsibly for conservation and the environment.
  • Accounting for the concerns of the employees, local communities, and other people who are impacted by operating mills and farming growers.
  • Always looking for ways to improve the operation.

What common foods contain palm oil & derivatives?

Palm oil stays in a semi-solid form under most conditions. It is also capable of getting warmer and maintaining its current consistency too. Benefiting from a good shelf-life, it avoids products going bad when including it in the ingredient list.

Due to the above factors, palm oil is a staple ingredient in a wide range of products.

With food and related products, many packaged goods found on the supermarket shelf contain some palm oil in them. By some estimates, over 40 percent, which makes it challenging for any vegan to avoid palm oil altogether.

Packaged products with an extended shelf life are a concern whether they contain palm oil. Many do because it’s so adaptable. For food consumers, eating clean and as close to the original food source as possible – not purchasing ready meals or processed foods from a factory – goes a long way.

Beyond the commercial food industry, you’ll also see it in animal feed, so vegans side-step this by eating meat alternatives.

Also, outside of the food industry, palm oil is found in many beauty products including soaps and cosmetics, candles, and laundry detergents, and can be a part of biofuel too.

Best Vegan Alternatives to Palm Oil

It is necessary to approach palm oil from two different perspectives to avoid it in your foods:

The first perspective is paying greater attention to product labels.

If you’re a purchaser of almond milk or soy milk, some may include oils. Hopefully, not palm oil, but it pays to always read the label.

Packaged foods, whether a meal for one or a jar of peanut butter, may include palm oil. So, again, it’s necessary to be vigilant even on products with a vegan stamp of approval.

The second perspective is to look for alternatives to palm oil when preparing foods.

When baking foods, using vegan butter such as Miyoko’s Butter is a good one because it is free of palm oil. It takes on a brown coloration during the baking process too. Fermented cashew nuts are its primary ingredient.

Milkadamia is another vegan butter that can be added or included in the dishes that you’re preparing. It is made from macadamia oil. It does spread nicely, but a little warmth provides suitable encouragement. So, heating some toast or vegan muffins and then spreading the Milkadamia works a treat!

It does require some work to not consume palm oil. It is so ubiquitous in the food industry, that extra care must be taken. Outside of food, many other products use it as well. Therefore, this is one of the trickier ingredients to avoid in your vegan life.

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