Highly criticized for its harmful impact on the environment, particularly by causing deforestation in the tropics and reducing biodiversity, palm oil remains the most consumed vegetable oil in the world and global appetite for it continues to grow. Nearly 30 million hectares were devoted to palm oil production worldwide in 2019, about ten times the size of Belgium.
According to the latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture, global annual palm oil consumption exceeded 70 million metric tons in the fiscal year of 2018/19, more than double the 2007 figure. Palm oil is predominately used in foods like chocolate and ice cream, but also in bread or potato chips. Nearly 70 percent of palm oil is used in foods. At the same time, industrial uses, including the production of biofuels and cosmetics, is constantly expanding and now accounts for nearly 30 percent of total consumption (compared to 22 percent in FY2006/07).
Palm oil contributes to environmental problems and climate change. Ponds of wastewater at palm oil refineries release immense amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Solutions are complicated, partly because of palm oil’s ubiquity while alternatives lack many of the benefits of palm oil.
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