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February 2019

Palm oil ban: what you should know

Palm oil is a versatile fat used in various foods, soaps, makeups, and cleaning products. But several European countries have banned this ingredient. This may have some people wondering if palm oil is unsafe.

Safety isn’t the issue. When eaten in food amounts, palm oil is likely safe for most people. It’s solid or semi-solid at room temperature, has a neutral taste and smell, and is a healthier alternative to trans fats. It’s also cheap, making it a useful and long-lasting ingredient in a variety of products. Despite its versatility, the UK supermarket chain Iceland recently announced that it will be removed from all of its branded products. So what’s the issue?

Palm oil cultivation promotes deforestation. Given the increased demand for palm oil, this is having devastating effects in large tropical areas. While it’s been a known issue for some time, the recent commercial campaign by Iceland announcing its ban has pushed this topic back into the headlines. Some argue that the only way to stop the damage is to remove palm oil entirely from all products. Others suggest that focusing on sustainably sourced palm oil is the best solution. The ongoing debate has also become politically charged as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, a major palm oil producing country, is sending letters to France and Norway protesting their palm oil ban.

While it’s hard to avoid products containing palm oil in the US, people who are concerned about possibly contributing to deforestation should look for products containing certified sustainable palm oil. Certified palm oil cultivation requires growers to comply with environmentally responsible best practices. 

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