What’s the Problem with Palm Oil?

By Chester Zoo

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. But what's the issue? Because palm oil is cheap and efficient, it is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil and global consumption is rising. Palm oil is used in the production of foods such as cake, chocolate, biscuits, margarine and frying fats. It is also found in cosmetics, soap, shampoo, cleaning products and can be used as a biofuel.


Up to 50% of products in an average UK supermarket now contain palm oil!

The global demand for palm oil has resulted in the rapid expansion of unsustainable oil palm plantations, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Rainforests which were once home to orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos have been decimated. These plantations cannot sustain wildlife, and as a result, animal numbers are falling fast.

If we were to stop using palm oil, we would need to find an alternative to supply the global demand for edible vegetable oils. Because other oil crops – such as coconuts, olives, sunflowers and maize – are less productive per square kilometre, even MORE land would need to be converted to agricultural land.

The solution…
In recent years a number of organisations have started to produce and source palm oil more sustainably. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has developed sustainability standards for palm oil produced with minimal impact on wildlife, local people and the environment. Whilst acknowledging that there is room for improvement to make this system more efficient and transparent, engaging with the scheme, rather than ignoring it, is the only way we can make a change to have a positive impact on palm oil production. Some companies themselves are taking their own steps to go further than the RSPO scheme and become ‘deforestation-free’. Together, conservation organisations in this initiative are working with others to improve these standards further to make palm oil production even more sustainable.

What can you do?
Buying only products that contain certified sustainable palm oil is an important first step in the journey to protect animals like orangutans and others that share its rainforest habitat.

Act For Wildlife, which is led by Chester Zoo, have compiled a detailed shopping list to see what chocolate, biscuits or butter brands contain 100% RSPO certified sustainable palm oil. So when you’re next doing your shopping you can swap unsustainable products for sustainable ones! You can download the shopping list at:


Victoria Lee