The controversy surrounding palm oil is a serious issue for X’s to O’s–we are frequently asked about its presence in our products, and as a vegan-owned business, it is also a personal concern. We wanted to address our stance on the topic for our customers, to explain our own research, and better define where our ingredients are sourced from.
Indonesian palm oil comes at a massive cost–its production there is burning rainforest, directly and indirectly murdering countless animals, particularly orangutans, uprooting indigenous families, causing toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, using child and slave labor; the list of its practices and consequences is horrifying.
Deeply concerned about our own products, we read thoroughly on the topic and inquired to our suppliers, through which we found that not all palm oil is the same. Produced in many locations around the globe, the circumstances under which palm is harvested varies widely, and yes, CAN be done sustainably. Currently, the best known example of this is in West Africa, where palm is native and in most cases, organic. Small family farms there can produce fairly without clear-cutting; Dr. Bronner’s and Alaffia both source their palm this way.
Currently, our palm shortening is organically sourced from Brazil, not Indonesia. While all intensive commercial farming has its problems, Brazil’s palm production process is significantly different and has less impact on the ecosystem and it’s human and non-human inhabitants. According to Yale University’s Environment 360 publication, “Brazil’s current Forest Code requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forested, which means that a company cannot only buy a block of pasture in the Amazon, it must also secure — or pay the cost of — a forest reserve several times the size of the palm plantation.” The shift of palm production to Brazil could also detract from the cattle ranching business there. “Replacing cattle pasture with palm oil plantations also offers significant environmental benefits, as palm trees — though not nearly as valuable ecologically as rainforest — at least sequester carbon and evapotranspirate moisture, which is important to the hydrological cycle of rainforests.”
Our other palm ingredient which is hotly contested is Earth Balance. They explain their sources openly on their website: “Thirty percent of our palm oil comes from Brazil. Our Brazil-sourced palm oil is 100% organic and is used in all of our organic products (and because orangutans are not native to South America, the Brazilian palm industry does not adversely impact their wellbeing). The remaining 70% of our palm oil comes from responsible sources in peninsular Malaysia (also a non-native orangutan habitat), which are all members of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the leading global organization developing and implementing global standards for sustainable palm oil production. We insist on continuing assurances from our suppliers that all palm fruit oil purchased for Earth Balance®complies with the RSPO policies, and we are committed to terminating any suppliers that violate these policies.”
When this issue comes up by those who avoid palm, we are typically asked why we don’t use coconut oil instead of Earth Balance. The cost of this is so prohibitive that we would not be able to stay open unless we at least tripled our prices ($8-$10 per cupcake) and somehow maintained sales at that increased level! It is already difficult as a small business to survive while using quality, organic products. While we never look towards profit over ethics, the best solution for us is to continually search for the most sustainable and ethical sources of palm oil. We currently are looking to find a supplier that obtains palm from its native, organic home in Africa. As this is an ongoing, global problem, we are committed to regularly examining how to purchase the best sources.