The World Health Organization’s latest initiative to ban artificial trans fats from the global food supply by 2023 is praiseworthy as around 500,000 people die from cardiovascular diseases annually after consuming trans fats. However, environmentalists fear this move could inadvertently increase the demand for palm oil, which is a highly unsustainable substitute.
Artificial trans fats are usually made by “hydrogenating” vegetable oils, which turns them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life. Palm oil has many similar qualities that food manufacturers like, including low costs, shelf-stability and a creamy texture.
The decreasing use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils has already been linked to a boom in palm oil imports to the US. But the cost of this unsustainable palm oil is too high – its production has wiped out forests in Indonesia and Malaysia destroying habitats of endangered species, displacing indigenous communities and causing destruction of peatlands.