Genuinely ‘deforestation-free’ palm oil products are problematic to guarantee, according to a new study.
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is used in thousands of products worldwide, including an estimated 50% of all products on supermarkets shelves, from food to detergents to cosmetics.
Although growing palm trees requires less land and resources than traditional vegetable oils, the cultivation of palm oil is a major cause of tropical deforestation, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Oil palm plantations replaced 2.7 million hectares of tropical forest in these two countries between 1990 and 2005, leading to a loss of biodiversity and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Pressure from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace has led many companies to commit to only using “deforestation-free” palm oil products – those made exclusively using palm oil from plantations that have not cleared forests. However, environmentalists have criticised the action so far as taking too long and not following sufficiently strict guidelines.
Now, a study by researchers from Imperial College London has revealed some of the challenges faced by companies in guaranteeing that products labelled as “deforestation-free” have really been produced without causing deforestation. The results are published this week in the journal Global Environmental Change.