Les dangers de l’huile de palme

July 2019

Si une chose semble trop belle pour être vraie, c’est souvent le cas.

Même si vous n’avez jamais entendu le terme « huile de palme », vous l’avez surement déjà rencontrée. L’huile de palme est récoltée sur les palmiers à huile, qui sont originaires d’Afrique de l‘Ouest. Elle est utilisée dans tout type de produit, mais principalement dans la production de produits alimentaires. Vous pouvez en trouver dans vos huiles de cuisine, votre beurre et vos shampoings, lotions et bien plus. Elle est aussi incroyablement peu chère à produire ; elle demande 10 fois moins de terres pour produire la même quantité que le soja.

Elle est peu cher, abondante et rend notre nourriture plus savoureuse. Où est le problème ?

Il se trouve que les conséquences de production de masse de l’huile de palme sont bien plus sinistres que ce dont notre société est consciente. L’abondance d’huile de palme a fait exploser la production d’aliments transformés et d’aliments malsains, nourrissant le problème d'obésité de notre pays. De plus, l’Autorité européenne de sécurité des aliments (EFSA) a mis en garde contre le chauffage de l’huile de palme à haute température, pouvant mener à la création de toxines responsables de cancers.

La conséquence la plus grande et la plus dangereuse de la production d’huile de palme est la déforestation rapide nécessaire pour soutenir cette industrie. Les palmiers à huile se développent dans le même climat tropical que les forêts tropicales. Les plus grandes forêts tropicales sont situées en Amazonie d'Amérique du Sud, au bassin du Congo en Afrique et en Asie du Sud-Est, notamment en Indonésie et en Malaisie. D'Incalculables hectares de ces forêts tropicales ont été brûlés pour faire de la place pour les plantations massives de palmiers à huile. Les experts prédisent que 98 % de la forêt tropicale d'Indonésie aura été convertie en production d’huile de palme d’ici 2050.

Rainforest ecosystems are some of the most biodiverse on the planet, meaning they contain the highest amount of species in a given area. Indonesia alone houses between 10-20% of known plant, animal and insect species in the world due to its dense rainforests. Sadly, over ⅓ these species are in danger of extinction, while 14% of Malaysia’s species are listed as endangered.

As these species’ habitats are destroyed to make room for palm oil trees, their populations get smaller and smaller. Indonesia and Malaysia are home to last wild orangutans, and they are in critical danger of becoming extinct. The Sumatran elephant, Goffin's Cockatoos, rhinoceros, and tiger are all clinging on to survival as they see their habitats shrink and be replaced by palm oil trees.

Species extinction negatively impacts humanity more than we realize; many medicinal remedies and pharmaceuticals, such as penicillin, are derived from or inspired by the genetics of various plants and animals found in the rainforests. With each species that dies off, we are actively reducing our access to potential medical breakthroughs.

Rainforest removal also threatens the quality of the air we breathe. Rainforests work double time to purify our air by sucking out carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen, and they do so more efficiently than any other ecosystem. By tearing them down, we are depleting a critical source of clean oxygen. The smoke and air pollution caused by rainforest removal, typically done by burning, greatly worsens the air for the local communities.

Apart from worsening the air quality, the emissions from the burning rainforests further accelerate the climate change crisis. Not only does it add more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but losing the rainforest also means we lose a critical carbon regulation system. Without having our rainforests to constantly convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, we are left with dangerous, heat-trapping gases that run rampant and further warm our atmosphere.

On the surface, it appears that the palm oil industry has provided the people living in and around the rainforest with a steady source of employment and economic development. However, the jobs offered to the locals demand long, grueling hours of work for little pay. There are also few laws restricting child labor, and the industry has been known to seize private lands to further their interests.

So palm oil production causes extensive environmental destruction, wreaks havoc on our clean air, and violates many human rights. What can we do to stop it?

First, we can try to avoid products containing palm oil. It is very pervasive; you can find it in many common items that you purchase daily. The good news is that there are PLENTY of products on the market that have committed to be palm-oil free, and that number grows every day. You can find lists of palm-oil free brands and products through organizations such as Selva Beat and Products Without Palm Oil. Palm oil likes to hide under many different ingredient names, so try and familiarize yourself with some of them through this helpful guide.

The most effective way to get rid of palm oil is to reduce our overall consumption of goods. Palm oil production will continue to be as massive problem as long as our society allows. As we reduce our consumption, we reduce the size of the industry and ultimately reduce its dangerous impact on the climate change crisis, our environment, humanity, and our precious species.