The science writer, Frank Swain, last year posed the question, How do we go palm oil free?, in a must-read analysis published on the BBC’s online platform called BBC Future. This award-winning online platform proclaims that We believe in truth, facts, and science. We take the time to think. And we don’t accept–we ask why. And Swain’s article is some evidence that this praiseworthy goal is being achieved.
Swain noted that palm oil (the world’s most popular vegetable oil in 50% of consumer products) is used in everything from confectionery to construction, and our addiction to palm oil is costing the Earth due to the harm it does to the rainforests. He notes that it might have been in the bread you toasted for breakfast, or the margarine you smeared on it, or in the creamer you stirred into your coffee and if you used butter and milk, the cow those came from was probably fattened on it too. And Swain writes further that as global demand for meat, poultry and dairy products increases, the demand for palm oil will likewise grow.
As a local and organic food advocate who has combed through and relied on Michael Pollan’s Food Rules for years, I know that I can say, not my morning’s toast or coffee, and not the meat, poultry and dairy products I consume. Taking pride in knowing where your food comes from can indeed help folks to at least avoid the dietary consumption of palm oil.
One of the most important rules, which comes near the very end of Pollan’s Food Rules (along with his governing standard of avoiding “manufactured” or highly processed foods) is short and sweet: Rule 82, “Cook.” Why? In Pollan’s words:
Cooking for yourself is the only sure way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and food processors, and to guarantee you’re eating real food rather than edible foodlike substances, with their unhealthy oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and surfeit of salt (emphasis added).
A few years ago, we referenced a still relevant article, Five Foods That Are Killing the Planet, in the bi-monthly magazine Sierra, published by the Sierra Club, by Avital Andrews that summed up the well-reasoned opinions of nearly a dozen prominent environmentalist in concluding that palm oil, as well as four other foods (blue fish tuna, conventional coffee, cheap burgers and genetically modified corn), should not be consumed by consumers mindful of our planet’s well-being. A conclusion also rooted (like Frank Swain’s) in a deep concern for the environment and our planet’s health.
With the dreadful year of 2020 now a bad memory, and as America recovers from this week’s dangerous mob attack on our nation’s Capitol (instigated by a POTUS whose days in the Oval Office are numbered), permit me to note a spark of light from the action of a federal agency that is a bit of a surprise, and which provides another angle on why palm oil consumption is a no-no.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Trade has issued a Withhold Release Order against Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (and its subsidiaries, joint ventures, and affiliated entities in Malaysia) effective December 30,2020, directing CBP personnel at all U.S. ports of entry to detain palm oil and products containing palm oil produced by Sime Darby Plantation. Sime Darby Plantation, according to its website, is the world’s largest oil palm plantation company (by planted area) and with some odd dissonance given its apparent labor practices, it also notes on its website that it is the world’s largest producer of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).
Regardless of this self-proclaimed declaration of sustainability (on the backs of underpaid and mistreated laborers?), the CBP’s Office of Trade took this action:
Based on information that reasonably indicates the presence of all 11 of the International Labour Organization’s forced labor indicators in Sime Darby Plantation’s production process. Federal statute 19 U.S.C. 1307 prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, manufactured, or produced, wholly or in part, by convict labor, forced labor, and/or indentured labor, including forced or indentured child labor.
It must be noted that it’s not just the production of palm oil that should raise the significant concern to focus on the labor used to produce tropical products. Our website provides directories of fair traded Chocolate, Coffee and Tea for reasons including concern for the labor used in growing and production. Notably, one of the first films reviewed on this website, Nothing Like Chocolate focused on the quest by chocolate maker Mott Green to find an alternative to industrial chocolate “entrenched in enslaved child labor (in West Africa’s Ivory Coast), irresponsible corporate greed, and tasteless, synthetic products.” The chocolate company Mott Green (R.I.P.) founded, The Grenada Chocolate Company, is still included in our chocolate directory.
Thanks to this federal agency for providing some light at a particularly dark and dangerous moment in our nation’s governance.
(Frank W. Barrie, 1/8/21)