Palm Oil, Long the Bad Guy, Has Something to Teach Us

Other industries could learn something from its turnaround story
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2023 2:10 PM CST
Palm Oil, Long the Bad Guy, Is Changing for the Better
   (Getty Images / WhitcombeRD)

Depending on how you look at it, palm oil is an angel or a devil. The angelic part is its versatility: no other vegetable oil is like it. As the Guardian puts it, palm oil is cheaper than other options, and works in wonderous ways, making "cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting." But desire for it has driven 30 years of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, and that destruction deeply sullied the oil's reputation. But as Benji Jones writes for Vox, there may be a redemption story underway. That deforestation trend has reversed over the past decade, with palm oil-related deforestation hitting a 22-year low in Indonesia in 2021.

Jones is quick to note the industry is "still wrecking some forests in Southeast Asia and elsewhere," but he says its story "may hold lessons for other industries"—chief among them beef—"that still stock our grocery stores with forest-flattening foods." The plot twist came in 2013, when, at the urging of environmental advocates, one of the leading palm oil companies changed its mind on the need to raze forests to grow palm; as those environmentalists pointed out, there was enough "already-degraded" land to grow on. Within a year, most major players had done as Wilmar did. That's not to say palm oil is doing no harm. Deforestation is still occurring, and palm oil is grown on land that hasn't been restored to its previous forested state. "So far, however, the story remains positive." (Read the full piece for much more.)

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