Ever wondered what a bottle of luscious shampoo and a jar of sumptuous chocolate spread have in common? The answer is quite straightforward: palm oil! While spreading chocolate spread on your bread, take a glimpse at the packaging. The actual content of chocolate and hazelnut together makes less than 20%. Half of this jar is sugar and the other 40% is pure palm oil. This palm oil is what goes into the making of shampoos, cosmetics and almost everything we use today. Several people stood up against the manufacturers of a major brand for spreading lies instead of chocolate. But the real battle is against this ingredient that we unknowingly consume. This has detrimental effects on our health as well as the health of Mother Nature.


There has been much debate on whether palm oil is linked with cause of cancer. Research is continuing on this topic, so far there have been no indications on whether they do cause cancer. However, we all know the side effects of continued consumption of oils and fatty products. Palm oil is not pure oil; it is processed and modified several times before getting churned into our spreads. The words “processed” and “fatty” do not go down well in our body’s dictionaries. Cholesterol, diabetes are only a few effects. Although there is a theory that the glycidyl fatty acid esters found in palm oil are closely linked to cancer and tumours, it has not yet been proved. But will we only stop doing something because it causes cancer? It has several other issues that may affect us directly in the future.


Several forests are being chopped down or merely burnt to ashes to clear land for production of palm oils. As sustainability of the environment is a key factor causing climate change, this indiscriminate activity further worsens the situation. Indonesia and Malaysia contain 80% of Southeast Asian forest and 11% of the World’s tropical rainforest, but as demand for palm oil continues to grow the amount of forests are decreasing. In Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 forest area declined by 28,072,000 hectares and 56% of this decline was due to the clearing of forests for conversion to palm oil plantations. These are some staggering statistics indeed! This problem in a remote part of East Asia has several repercussions that span the rest of the world. Around a third of the world’s animal species live in these forests. Common species such as tigers are now classified as rare, imagine the status of rare species – they would probably be endangered by now or even extinct. When a forest is set on fire, the habitats of several species burn down along with their young who haven’t yet been taught the trade of escaping forest fires. The future generations to come wouldn’t know that these species once existed. This mass decrease of animals, birds and a whole range of undiscovered organisms, that call these Indonesian forests their homes, reduces biodiversity on a global scale. One of the sole reasons that global warming is on the rise is due to the lack of green spaces and trees. Illegal logging and deforestation act as a catalyst to this issue. We know that climate change doesn’t pick and choose countries to pounce on, it is a global phenomenon. The carbon dioxide and air pollution that is released when burning these forests, affects neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia. People have to wear face masks that filter out the harmful toxins. They can’t even breathe easily due to this and inhaling even once is equivalent to smoking one cigarette. The greenhouse effect occurs as a result of an accumulation of harmful gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of these gases and the greenhouse effect continues to create holes in our ozone layer. The production of one jar of chocolate spread causes a gazillion problems that affect us directly – as if chocolate spread cannot be made without palm oil!


The next time you purchase a food item, take a second to look behind the jar and see whether the product is sustainably sourced. It literally means that the product has been brought to you without the exploitation of people or nature. Almost 90% of the products in a store are not sustainably sourced, and that small 10% that is organic and does not involve a crime, costs a lot more than normal products. But if we keep purchasing sustainably sourced products, the prices will go down, making it easily accessible to everybody. It will reduce the evils involved in producing products and the problems due to climate change in a large scale will be reduced. Imagine all the benefits of checking the packaging: no more tube delays as a result of climate change protests, no more unwanted arrests, no more problems for animals and birds, just utopia! Make an effort to buy only sustainable products and this will make the world a sweeter place, sweeter than chocolate spreads.

By Rathi Ramakrishnan, Nower Hill High School