I was asked by someone the other day to avoid buying products containing palm oil. Found in foods, cosmetics and household cleaners, palm oil is in an estimated half the products found in our supermarkets. Its production is causing widespread clearance of rainforest habits and peat lands, putting animals such as orangutans and tigers at risk.
We can have an impact on the trade in palm oil by what we consume as individuals and of course we should care about the destruction reaped by palm oil production, but we can’t ignore what’s right under our nose either. Is palm oil production REALLY the biggest problem facing our delicate ecosystems?
Up until 2013, 10.5 million hectares of rainforest have been cleared for palm oil production. However, this is less than a fifth of the 55 million hectares cleared for animal agriculture just in the Amazon alone. Why isn’t this being publicised, when the demand for meat and milk is driving this devastation? Why aren’t environmental groups asking us to go vegan?
Furthermore, the dairy industry is directly implicated in the destruction of wildlife habitats. Did you know that palm kernel expeller, (produced when palm kernel oil is extracted from palm kernels), is widely used as a supplementary feed on New Zealand dairy farms? Although New Zealand is a small country, we import up to 25 per cent of the world’s supply of palm kernel feed.
A report commissioned by Greenpeace estimated that the production of palm kernel feed alone could have produced up to 8.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand (in the 2010/11 season). That’s the equivalent of a whopping 12 per cent of New Zealand’s entire annual greenhouse gas emissions.
This palm kernel feed for dairy cows is just one of the many impacts on climate change associated with dairy production in New Zealand. For example, what about those 4.9 million dairy cows burping their way through the day? Two thirds of our agricultural emissions come from the methane emitted when cows burp. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so producing milk is way more lethal than burning fossil fuels or driving a gas-guzzling car.
And what about animal suffering? According to ‘Say No to Palm Oil’, palm oil causes the deaths of 1000-5000 orangutans every year. A truly terrible figure!
In New Zealand there are 100 million animals suffering on factory farms every single year. Some will spend their entire lives in cages; others (like pigs) will spend weeks on end unable even to turn around. Meanwhile, two million dairy bobby calves are sent straight to the slaughterhouse four days after birth, considered a mere waste product of the industry. Of course farmed animals are not endangered, but they can still think and feel, AND suffer. Their lives matter too!
Certainly I would encourage you to avoid products containing palm oil, especially since the numbers of Sumatran tigers and orangutans are at critical levels. However, one of the biggest actions we can take, if we really care about endangered species, animal suffering, climate change and the environment, is to Go Vegan! Find out how you can go meat and dairy-free by joining SAFE’s 30-Day Go Veg Challenge – putting the environment and animals first.
Marianne Macdonald, Campaign Officer