How does the palm oil industry affect orangutans?

All three species of orangutans are critically endangered and have been affected by the growing palm oil industry. Palm oil plantations, primarily found in Indonesia and Malaysia, often contribute to deforestation and can cause the destruction of the natural rainforest habitat of orangutans.

When primary rainforest is destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, the orangutan’s habitat is wiped out and they have nowhere to live. Having lost their forest home, orangutans become displaced and confused. With no food source, they inevitably starve to death or wander into the palm plantations, only to be killed by plantation workers who often view them as pests. As their natural habitat diminishes, orangutans become more vulnerable to poachers, who kill orangutan mothers in order to capture their infants who are kept as pets or are smuggled to sell in the illegal wildlife trade.

It is estimated that between 1,000 and 5,000 orangutans are killed every year because of palm oil development. In just the last decade, the orangutan population has dropped by 50%, while the land used for palm oil plantations has doubled. Orangutans have lost 90% of their primary tropical rainforest habitat and many of the wild populations that are left have been cut off from each other. Palm oil trees grow best on land that has not been previously used for agriculture, which means primary and virgin rainforests are completely cleared to make room for expanding palm plantations. When land is cleared for palm oil plantations it is often burned. The fires frequently get out of control and emit enormous amounts of harmful smoke and greenhouse gases, affecting not only orangutans and other wildlife, but human life as well.

Which everyday products include palm oil and how to avoid these products at the supermarket?

Palm oil is in around 50% of supermarket items including:

  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Potato chips
  • Frozen foods
  • Snacks and Biscuits
  • Margarine
  • Baked goods
  • Instant noodles
  • Fruit juice
  • Shampoos and Conditioners
  • Cosmetics
  • Toothpaste
  • Cleaning and Laundry products

Tips for Buying Palm Oil Free Products

  • Check the Label – Palm Oil is often listed as saturated fat on the food label
  • Contact the Supplier – if not sure if the product contains palm oil, contact the supplier and ask them
  • Look for ‘No Palm Oil’ labelling

Some Tips to Avoid Palm Oil:

  • Choose products that contain clearly labelled oils such as 100% sunflower oil, corn oil, olive oil or coconut oil.
  • Avoid ingredients with the word palm in it, including palmitate, palmitoyl, palm kernel, palmitoleic or simply palm as these contain palm oil
  • If you are unsure of the ingredients in a product it, Google the product followed by the words ‘palm oil’ and often you can find the answer
  • Avoid fast food outlets, such as McDonalds, Subway and Domino’s Pizza, as they use palm oil

Support Ethical Businesses:

Such as:

  • Chooktopia.com.au
  • Productswithoutpalmoil.com
  • Crueltyfreeshop.com.au
  • Orangutan.org.au
  • Zoo.org.au/palmoil

Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Palm Oil?

  • Palm oil is a viable crop for approximately 50 years –  after which the soil is depleted of nutrients and the soil structure destroyed. The land becomes useless for many future generations
  • A product can earn a “certified sustainable palm oil” label even if 99% of the palm oil it includes came from freshly deforested land
  • If you can’t avoid palm oil completely, do your best to reduce consumption. If you must purchase a product with palm oil in it, make sure the palm oil is labelled as 100% traceable certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO)