In the last two decades, consumption of palm oil has increased drastically. This easy-to-grow and cheap vegetable oil can be found in a wide variety of products – right from chocolate bars to jet fuel. In fact, it is estimated that 50% of all packaged goods sold in western supermarkets contain palm oil.
However, this crop has a great environmental impact. About 85% of world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, and palm oil plantations have wreaked havoc on both the countries’ forests and wildlife. Today, Indonesia is the world’s fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly due to land use change. Malaysia lost 7.29 million hectares of tree cover from 2001-2017.
The IUCN states that 193 critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable animals — including African forest elephants and chimpanzees — are directly threatened by palm oil.
As such, in the past two years, the European Commission and several European countries have weighed up plans to restrict imports of palm oil amid growing concern about the environmental impact of the crop.
But the world’s biggest producers launched an aggressive diplomatic pushback, threatening to cancel deals worth billions for everything from salmon to fighter jets.
Groups backed by the Malaysian government launched social media campaigns against European government officials and a well-known supermarket, at the same time.