Hey Mr. Green! How can I avoid palm oil?
I try to avoid palm oil because tropical rainforests are destroyed to develop palm oil plantations. But yesterday, I happened to read the label on a bar of my favorite soap and—oh dear!—sodium palmitate was the very first ingredient. What to do?
—Joy from Tennessee
A: Palm oil is in everything from cookies to cosmetics to detergents. Roughly half the packaged products in grocery stores contain it. According to Rainforest Action Network—which is pushing for sustainably sourced palm oil—after the dangers of trans fats were revealed, food manufacturers actually increased their use of the stuff. But even obsessive label readers have a hard time avoiding it, because palm oil concoctions appear under a string of names that ring like lines from ancient Greek poetry: sodium dodecyl sulfate, glyceryl stearate, sodium isostearoyl lactylate, and elaeis guineensis, to cite but a few. Adding to the confusion, a label can piously claim “no animal products used” while rare rhinos, tigers, orangutans, and other tropical creatures are pushed from their habitats by palm oil plantations.
Given the abundance of palm oil derivatives in the market, forest defenders are not asking for a total boycott of products containing the oil. Instead, rainforest advocates would like consumers to contact the companies that use palm oil and demand that it be responsibly sourced. Rather than shunning your favorite soap, write its manufacturer with your concerns. Major users of palm oil include Campbell’s, Heinz, Hormel, and PepsiCo. Some progress has been made already with Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, and agribusiness colossus ConAgra, but further prodding wouldn’t hurt. For more details, check out Rainforest Action Network’s scorecard.
Courtesy of the Mr. Green column – The Sierra Club