TCW: Don’t let the eco-maniacs cancel palm oil

Why does the eco-lobby care so much about restricting our access to this innocuous-seeming vegetable oil?

Published by TCW (formerly The Conservative Woman)

THE Mirror recently ran a story claiming that palm oil can contribute to the spread of cancer. That would be very worrying, because palm oil is extremely versatile and is used in everything from shampoo to chocolate. But is it true?

That article in the Mirror is regurgitated from an earlier story in the Guardian, which in turn is lifted from an article in the science journal Nature. All three articles, which are remarkably similar, try to claim that palmitic acid, which is found in palm oil, can exacerbate cancer, but when you dig beyond the headlines, you soon realise that the reports are little more than scare stories.

The truth is that palmitic acid is the most common saturated fatty acid in nature. It is present in plants and animals, and makes up 20-30 per cent of total fatty acid in the human body. An 11-stone man contains almost 8lb of the stuff.

The link to cancer is tenuous at best. The experiment cited was on mice and there is no information about what happens in people. The logic is so stretched you could apply it to almost any ingredient in food that you wanted to demonise. Broccoli, for instance, contains a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is carcinogenic, as do countless other common, harmless foods. Headlines claiming something commonplace has ‘links to cancer’ are almost always political and activist-driven, and this is certainly the case with palm oil.

The rhetoric in the cancer scare articles is part of a much wider campaign against palm oil. Companies and politicians around the world are going out of their way to disassociate from it. Leading the pack is the European Union, which is pushing for palm oil imports to Europe to be banned.

Why does the eco-lobby care so much about restricting our access to this innocuous-seeming vegetable oil?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is virtue-signalling. Many claim to be very worried that palm oil is causing deforestation on a mass scale. Greenpeace even produced an advert claiming that by consuming palm oil, we are destroying orangutan habitats. (The ad was banned for being too political.) But much like the palmitic acid story, the truth about palm oil and deforestation is quite different from what the environmentalists would have you believe.

Palm oil caters to more than a third of global vegetable oil demand but causes just 4 per cent of the deforestation, and that proportion is falling by the week as more sustainable methods are developed. Alternatives such as sunflower and rapeseed use much more land to produce the same amount of oil, making them both worse for the environment (because you have to chop down many more trees to produce them) and considerably more expensive.

Why, then, does the green lobby target palm oil rather than other products? Quite simply, palm oil is widely used (for good reason) so the simplistic Left blames it for all the world’s ills, from cancer to deforestation.

Ninety per cent of the palm oil imported to Europe is certified as sustainable already. Even the World Wide Fund for Nature says that if we care about protecting nature, the best thing we can do is allow the innovation in sustainable palm oil, not attack or ban it.

WWF says: ‘Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop, producing more oil per land area than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. Globally, palm oil supplies 40 per cent of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6 per cent of the land used to produce all vegetable oils . . . Furthermore, there are millions of smallholder farmers who depend on producing palm oil for their livelihoods. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer.’

Short-sighted attacks on essential products such as palm oil would be unwise and harmful at any time, but when inflation is rocketing and the price of food and toiletries is already a huge worry for many families, making products more expensive by restricting access to ingredients is positively ludicrous.

Don’t let eco-maniacs cancel palm oil. The consequences for the rest of us would be dire because it would only cause food prices to climb even further and leave more supermarket shelves empty, without doing anything to preserve the natural world. The anti-palm oil campaign is just another round of Project Fear from the green lobby without a basis in fact.

Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire): Shortsighted Idea From the Green Lobby Would Worsen Deforestation

Published by the Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire)

In recent months, much of the green lobby has been focussing its ire on palm oil. If it were up to the lobby, importing and using this common vegetable oil would be banned overnight. In fact, the European Union has already done something similar, and is working on a total palm oil import ban. Around the world, eco-socialists are declaring war on palm oil. But why?

Palm oil is one of those products whose importance is inversely proportional to the amount of attention it gets. You might not have heard of it, or know very little about it, but if it disappeared you would miss it. Palm oil is absolutely essential in keeping our shelves fully stocked with food and cosmetics. It is used to make everything from chocolate to deodorant.

Why, then, is the green lobby so keen to extricate it from American stores and households? As is so often the case, it is pushing a shortsighted government intervention that, in fact, would both hurt consumers and produce worse outcomes for the environment.

Much of the political left is determined to tie palm oil to deforestation. Its adherents declare with great confidence that palm oil is responsible for the chopping down of tropical rainforests. But this flies in the face of the facts.

Palm oil is by far the most land-efficient of all the vegetable oils. Others oils like sunflower, soybean, rapeseed and olive require between six and 10 times more land to produce the same amount of oil, meaning you have to chop down a lot more trees to get the same result. That also, of course, makes those other oils much more expensive than palm oil, which is particularly important during a global food price crisis.

Despite catering to more than a third of the world’s entire vegetable oil demand, palm oil  accounts for just 6 percent of the cultivated land used for vegetable oil production. The entire global palm oil industry is responsible for less than 4 percent of global deforestation and — according to Global Canopy, an environmental nongovernmental organization — palm oil supply chains are doing a much better job than companies in other sectors at preventing deforestation.

Even the World Wildlife Fund  agrees: The best thing we can do is support sustainable palm oil and avoid boycotts, since we know substitutions with other vegetable oils can lead to even further environmental and social harm.

If they cared about achieving results for nature and the planet, the green lobby would take a more nuanced stance, pushing for greater sustainability in palm oil production. Instead, believing that only governments and not markets can provide solutions to issues like this, the lobby insists on an outright ban without a thought to what comes next. Ninety percent of the palm oil imported to Europe is officially certified as sustainable, meaning it is not contributing to harmful deforestation — but that won’t stop the European Union slapping an ill-considered blanket ban on it.

If we are not careful, that same myopic thinking could take hold in the United States. Politicians who are active in this area are so wrapped up in their virtue-signaling — letting the world know how keen they are to save the planet — that they forget to think about whether the policies they are pushing would actually achieve that.

It’s not just among lawmakers, either — even in the private sector, there is an increasing volume of self-congratulatory stores and outlets boasting about not using palm oil in their products, despite the fact that switching away from palm oil results in their products being both more costly and more damaging to the environment.

The virtue-signaling on this issue is so blatant that Iceland, a United Kingdom supermarket chain, even went so far as to make a TV commercial on the issue, in case anyone missed how environmentally conscious they are. In 2018, to mark their announcement that they were removing palm oil from their own-brand products, Iceland teamed up with Greenpeace to make a  short film portraying them as literally saving orangutans’ lives through their sacrifice. The ad was then banned from British screens for being too political.

Ironically, earlier this year, Iceland was forced to  row back on its promise and start using palm oil again because the fallout from the war in Ukraine made other products like sunflower oil too expensive for a budget supermarket chain to afford. Still, Iceland boss Richard Walker once bizarrely boasted about being a hypocrite on green issues during an interview with the Guardian, so the U-turn may not have been so difficult for him after all.

When it comes to deforestation, palm oil is the solution, not the problem. Until left-leaning virtue-signalers take the time to look at the data, their war on palm oil risks making deforestation much worse for no good reason.

Conservatives Global: Don’t be duped by fat cat green washers

This article was published by Conservatives Global.

UK supermarket chain Iceland has been forced to reverse a ban on using palm oil as an ingredient in its own-brand products amid an acute shortage of sunflower oil, a staple ingredient in products including frozen chips and breaded fish. The supermarket chain will start selling a limited range of own-label products from June which contain palm oil, after it banned the ingredient in 2018 amid a splash of publicity, supposedly taking a stand against tropical deforestation.

There are countless problems with sweeping decisions to swear off certain products, as Iceland did in 2018, not least the fact that you may have to embarrassingly go back on your promise later, as Iceland has just done. 90 per cent of palm oil exported to Europe is sustainable. Palm oil is more efficient than other products (such as sunflower oil, which Iceland switched to) meaning quitting palm oil is even worse for deforestation. Palm oil itself, despite meeting most of the world’s vegetable oil demand, is responsible for less than four per cent of global deforestation.

This episode has exposed Iceland’s hypocrisy. It claimed it would remove all own-brand products containing palm oil. In reality, it removed the branding, rather than the product itself. Iceland’s lack of transparency actively misled its customers. They boasted at the time that there was no palm oil in their products, which was not true.

In his latest policy change, Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker says the switch back to palm oil will only be a temporary measure. He claims that by using CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil) he will be able to minimise the impact on the environment. That suggests his view has changed since 2018, when Iceland was very clear about its opposition to any and all palm oil. His reasoning is not explained.

The question we should ask of Iceland, then, is whether they would now acknowledge that they should have moved to CSPO earlier if they knew it was an alternative, rather than making adverts criticising palm oil production. That is what they did in 2018, when they put their stamp on a Greenpeace video claiming that orangutans’ natural habitat was being destroyed by palm oil. The ad was then banned for being too political.

Palm oil is the tip of the iceberg of green virtue-signalling and hypocrisy, and Iceland is the perfect example. Walker’s pledge to remove palm oil from Iceland’s products is just one in a long line of unkept promises.

He also promised they would be plastic-free by 2023 but has since admitted that that will not be happening. Last year, Iceland was ranked as the worst supermarket in the UK on plastic, with Greenpeace (despite their apparent friendship with Iceland in 2018) slamming them as not doing enough to cut plastic use. Consumer group Which? ranked Iceland bottom too, this time for sustainability among supermarkets. Iceland was the only supermarket to fail to provide Which? with the relevant data for its own-brand plastic which is recyclable in kerbside collections.

Walker and Iceland would like us to believe they are leading the charge on social and environmental change. Despite that, Walker used a private helicopter to fly to different stores within the UK on 48 separate days, which he claims was necessary in order to be on the front line.

Companies, individuals and governments are so keen to be seen taking action on the environment that they forget about the consequences. They are so eager for their audiences to know how virtuous and tree-hugging they are that they don’t care if their decisions actually harm the planet. If we want to stop deforestation, halt climate change and generally care for our planet more, we must focus on the merits of our policy decisions rather than what others might think of them – the opposite of what Richard Walker does.

City AM: As Iceland rows back on palm oil, this is one slippery slope we should start to embrace

This article was published in City AM.

Supermarket chain Iceland announced this week that it had no choice but to go back on a pledge to avoid using palm oil as an ingredient in its own-brand product range. Managing director Richard Walker wrote in a blog post that Iceland could no longer afford to use sunflower oil, the palm oil alternative it plumped for in 2018, because its price has risen by 1,000 per cent as a result of war in Ukraine.

Ironically, the decision to switch back to palm oil will likely have a positive environmental impact, despite its reputation for assaulting the planet. While palm oil contributes to deforestation, it is the most land-efficient of the vegetable oils. By switching to alternatives like sunflower oil, manufacturers have to chop down lots more trees to produce the same amount of product. Palm oil production yields around 6-10 times more oil per hectare than other oils like sunflower, rapeseed, olive and soybean.

Palm oil’s anti-green reputation falls the moment you compare it to more resource-hungry oils. But the perception persists – except in times of crisis, it seems. Walker warned Iceland would otherwise be unable to offer much of Iceland’s usual product range. “I say this with huge regret,” Walker writes. “But the only alternative to using palm oil under the current circumstances would simply be to clear our freezers and shelves of a wide range of staples including frozen chips and other potato products.”

Now that Iceland has confirmed the current crisis is serious enough for us to dare to use palm oil to make breaded fish and frozen chips, perhaps this is the time for us to reconsider our side-lining of palm oil more broadly – particularly when it comes to fuel.

On palm oil and deforestation: regulators are failing, but so is the market

Along with skyrocketing food prices, perhaps the most impactful aspect of the inflationary and cost-of-living crisis on the average consumer will be fuel prices. Costs at the petrol pump have already soared to record highs, and given the geopolitical and economic situation, that does not look like changing any time soon.

As we try to extract ourselves from under Putin’s thumb and learn to heat our homes without relying on Russian fossil fuels we have talked no end about Saudi oil, solar power, wind power, domestic fracking and nuclear. But almost no one has mentioned biofuels.

There is no good reason why biofuels – such as palm oil – should be left out of the conversation. As of 2020, renewable fuels made up just 5.9 per cent of total road and non-road mobile machinery fuel – but most of that was biodiesel and bioethanol, with palm oil accounting for just 2.8 per cent of total supply as a feedstock.

Despite the obvious benefits of diversifying fuel sources, pressure from the green blob has continually driven regulators in the wrong direction, with Brussels leading the pack. The EU is set to progressively phase out palm oil as a biofuel source altogether by 2030, starting next year. As with Iceland’s sunflower oil switch, it seems likely that palm oil will be replaced by alternative products which are less land-efficient, and therefore contribute to deforestation on a greater scale.

Green virtue-signalling can often be harmless but when entire industries swear themselves off an irreplaceable product like palm oil, prices spike and the consequences for consumers are dire – especially during a crisis – and that’s before regulators get involved. From frozen food to biofuel, there are countless areas where quietly welcoming palm oil back into the fold would go a long way to alleviating the effects of the current crisis. Policy outcomes must overcome over-cautiousness about green PR.

Reaction: Green policies have costs – now is not the time for virtue-signalling on palm oil

This article was published by Reaction.

In 2018, supermarket chain Iceland announced it was removing palm oil as an ingredient from some of its own-brand food items, switching to alternative products like sunflower oil which it claimed are better for the environment. At the time, Iceland was lauded for its eco-consciousness. It even teamed up with Greenpeace to make a Christmas TV advert about how much it loves nature, only for the ad to be pulled for being too political.

Unfortunately for managing director Richard Walker, a lot has changed since then. Inflation skyrocketed and war broke out in Europe, forcing us to brace for the worst drop in living standards in decades. In a humbling but unavoidable U-turn, Walker had to go back on his promise and announce that Iceland will once again use palm oil in its own-brand products.

“The only alternative to using palm oil under the current circumstances would simply be to clear our freezers and shelves of a wide range of staples including frozen chips and other potato products,” he wrote in a blog post.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought to our attention how much we rely on Moscow for our energy, and we will no doubt pay the price of decoupling ourselves from Russian fossil fuel imports at petrol stations and through our utility bills for some time to come. Crucially, war in Ukraine also made us realise how many crops – the likes of wheat, barley, and corn – we import from Russia and Ukraine, leading to widespread fears of worsened food insecurity for millions.

But it was another innocuous product which led to Walker having to backtrack on his promise: sunflower oil. Iceland had been using sunflower oil as a replacement for palm oil in its own-brand products but thanks to the war in Ukraine, its price is up 1,000%.

Why did Iceland want to distance itself from palm oil to begin with? Because of a misguided fear that it is responsible for the destruction of rainforests.

Palm oil does contribute to deforestation – to a great extent, in fact. But that’s only because we use it in practically everything. From food to toiletries, countless manufacturers rely on it because it is the most efficient oil product of its kind. Others, such as sunflower oil, are much less space efficient. You have to cut down a lot more trees to get the same amount of product.

For that reason, switching away from palm oil to other oils as Iceland did in 2018 is actively bad for the environment. It causes more deforestation, not less. Palm oil takes up just 6% of the land used around the world for vegetable oil production, but still manages to provide for 40% of global demand for vegetable oils.

Given that countless companies like Iceland are keen to let us know how eco-conscious they are, moving away from palm oil and towards less green, more environmentally harmful products seems bonkers. The only reason they do so is because they know the palm oil name has been tarnished, with many holding it solely responsible for deforestation.

In other words, it’s a PR move, not an environmental one. The pressure from the green blob is for private actors to be seen to change the way they do things, even if it has no effect on the end result – or, as in this case, actually makes the problem worse.

It should not have taken Russia invading Ukraine and the price of sunflower oil increasing tenfold for Iceland to spot its error and row back on the palm oil boycott.

War in Europe means realism in politics is badly needed. Just a few months ago, world leaders made a bold pledge at COP26 to end deforestation – that plan had already missed its first deadline in February, before war broke out. Naturally, our politicians will want to accelerate the effort.

Ending deforestation is a laudable aim, but not at the expense of people having difficulty putting food on the table. Indeed, the EU is on the verge of banning palm oil imports. But which is worse – delaying the end of deforestation by a few years, or leaving millions of households unable to put food on the table?

Green policies have costs. Food insecurity affects millions in Britain and the cost-of-living crisis will only get worse. Now is not the time for virtue-signalling. Instead, let’s put struggling families first.

Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices and a political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624 or read more on his website, jason-reed.co.uk.