Would YOU Kill An Orangutan? Say NO to Palm Oil.

English: Palm oil from Ghana with its natural ...

English: Palm oil from Ghana with its natural dark color visible, 2 litres Español: Aceite de palma de Ghana con su color oscuro natural, 2 litros (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Note: images in this article are disturbing]


Are you guilty?

I’m definitely an animal lover, but not an extreme animal activist: I am not vegan, nor vegetarian (aside from a brief dalliance as a child after watching ‘Babe’, proudly, for around a year and a half)  as I love meat too much (and yes, I confess I was broken by a BigMac….), and I wear leather (perhaps naively assuming this is a by product of the red meat I’m eating), but I AM in favour of sustainable and cruelty free products.

I do not support the fur trade, which I think is a diabolical excuse for fashion, nor do I buy eggs that are from battery hens. I will absolutely pay more to ensure the meat and dairy I consume is ethically farmed. I support organic and free range farming, not so much from the chemical effect on humans, but for the quality of life that animals have before they come to the table. Sustainable and responsible farming of all aspects of the meat and dairy trade should be followed, and if you choose to take that to vegetarianism or veganism to show support, then good for you. I’m certain I’ve unwittingly used cosmetics that have been tested on animals, but certainly wouldn’t knowingly do so, although I feel understanding of animal testing has been relatively well represented in media over the last decade.

However, there is one cause that does not get mentioned in the mainstream media as much as it should do considering the massive devastation it causes, and that most if not all of us will have consumed related products from this trade.

Do you eat biscuits? Do you cook with vegetable oil? Do you wash your hair with shampoo? Of course you do. YOU could be inadvertently contributing to the death of thousands of orangutans and other animals who live in these forests, to the palm oil trade. You didn’t know? I didn’t think so. I didn’t realise either, certainly not the extent of it, and I am disgusted by it and our willingness to let this happen.

Do I sound like I’m overexaggerating? I’d like to say yes, but researching this article actually brought me to tears. You need to be aware that this exists and your money is contributing to sustaining this devastation.

This image is a result directly caused by the palm oil industry. This poor orangutan was burnt alive and is clearly in severe pain when discovered. I’m unsure if he is still alive, but it appears barely so.

Copyright Stop Animal Torture - Facebook Photo

Copyright Stop Animal Torture – Facebook Photo

So what IS palm oil?

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, almost all palm oil is produced in, and exported from, Indonesia and Malaysia; but most of the time not using sustainable measures.

Vast areas of pristine rainforest is slashed and burned each year in order to make way for oil palm plantations. Many orangutans and other wildlife are killed in the process, so that this one vegetable oil can be used in many of our everyday foods and products. This large-scale deforestation is pushing orangutans to extinction, along with many other native species of Borneo and Sumatra.

It seems that the high yield of oil from the trees makes this a very lucrative business, and as such it is an attractive proposition to flatten the existing forests to replace them with this product. In doing so, the deforestation from logging and fires to support the palm industry, many species of animal are being harmed, injured, captured or killed in the process.

Baby holding a dead adult - photo credit saynotopalmoil.com

Baby holding a dead adult – photo credit saynotopalmoil.com

But wait, you don’t use it, right?

Wrong. The chances are high that you do and you don’t know about it.

It is used in over 50of products, including: baked goods, confectionery, cosmetics, body products and cleaning agents. But in many countries (and ALL OF THE EU), there is no law on the mandatory labelling of palm oil. Consequently, companies will usually hide palm oil under the name of ‘vegetable oil’, or over 170 other names! 

This part really got to me. I don’t support this inhumane treatment of animals, even if it is via another means than direct intent, but it seems that I can be inadvertantly supporting it right left and centre just by buying processed foods, not to mention the fact that it is not a legal requirement worldwide to label palm oil.

I may as well eat the orangutans! (kidding, clearly…).

It was an ingredient during the war to make napalm, and perhaps even more interestingly, this is also a main ‘ingredient’ of biofuel. I’m struck silent by the irony.

Wiki says

Palm oil can be used to produce biodiesel, which is also known as palm oil methyl ester.[46] Palm oil methyl ester is created through a process called transesterification. Palm oil biodiesel is often blended with other fuels to create palm oil biodiesel blends.[47] Palm oil biodiesel meets the European EN 14214 standard for biodiesels.[46] The world’s largest palm oil biodiesel plant is the Finnish operated Neste Oil biodiesel plant in Singapore, which opened in 2011.[48]

The organic waste matter produced when processing oil palm, including oil palm shells and oil palm fruit bunches, can also be used to produce energy. This waste material, also known as biomass, can be converted into pellets that can be used as a biofuel.[49] Additionally, palm oil that has been used to fry foods can be converted into methyl esters for biodiesel. The used cooking oil is chemically treated to create a biodiesel similar to petroleum diesel.[50]

The use of palm oil in the production of biodiesel has led to concerns that the need for fuel is being placed ahead of the need for food, leading to malnourishment in developing nations. This is known as the food versus fuel debate. According to a 2008 report published in the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, palm oil was determined to be a sustainable source of both food and biofuel. The production of palm oil biodiesel does not pose a threat to edible palm oil supplies.[51] According to a 2009 study published in the Environmental Science and Policy journal, palm oil biodiesel might increase the demand for palm oil in the future, resulting in the expansion of palm oil production, and therefore an increased supply of food.[52]

This Orangutan was Burnt Alive- photo creditr saynotopalmoil.com

This Orangutan was Burnt Alive- photo creditr saynotopalmoil.com

Burnt Alive - photo credit saynotopalmoil.com

Burnt Alive – photo credit saynotopalmoil.com

How much is being used?

The answer is a bloody lot, and it’s growing.

Palm oil expansion courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

Palm oil expansion courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

Palm Oil harvesting, courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

Palm Oil harvesting, courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

Palm Oil Production courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

Palm Oil Production courtesy of saynotopalmoil.com

But then surely we must really need it?

You would think we must, but in reality there are other sources we could be using. Sadly as they are not as cheap or ‘efficient’ they are often not leveraged in favour of the mass market production of palm oil. There is even a sustainable version of palm oil, but sadly the body that regulates this (RSPO) is considered unreliable by many.

According to ‘Say No To Palm Oill

RSPO, founded in 2004, is an organisation made to promote the sustainable agriculture of the palm oil crop.

It is a good start for companies to become a member of RSPO and commit to sourcing ‘Sustainable Palm Oil’, however; theeffectiveness of RSPO is yet to be proven.

There has been large debate and controversy over whether RSPO is a well run, effective organisation or as some describe; ‘a green wash’. Many consumers are not happy with RSPO’s low standards and lack of regulations. Consumers state that the RSPO is simply a name that companies can hide behind and that the palm oil cannot be proven to be sustainable.
“At the present time, it is possible to be a full member of the RSPO without ever actually producing any RSPO certified sustainable palm oil.” – Wikipedia, the online Encyclopedia.

For now, it’s up to you as a consumer to choose whether you trust the RSPO and their standards on sustainable palm oil.

What animals are affected?

Since it is the forest itself that is affected, it is not just the orangutans that have their lives at risk, many other species of Borneo and Sumatra are under threat. Not only are their homes being  destroyed but their exposure from the deforestation and fires, as well as road creation through their habitat is making them prey to poachers who want them for circus entertainment, exotic pets, or even medicines, and the fur trade.

-Orangutans of both Borneo and Sumatra


-Pigmy elephants

-Sumatran Tigers


-Clouded Leopard


-and many many more species…

What can we do?

Firstly we can lobby for palm oil to be labelled on every single product sold. This will allow us to choose to avoid all products that stem from this industry and without this law it will be very difficult to distance yourself from supporting such a trade. In 2015 the law is passing in the EU to carry out such labelling, but I am not aware of any other countries also doing this at this time. 2015 is still months away.

Secondly we can complain to companies we know who use palm oil. It has apparently worked on other large brands who received consumer complaints asking them to think about this environment. Companies like KFC and Cadbury among many others have already responded to this course of action.

You can sign petitions here:

  1. The Intentious petition http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/the-australian-government-label-all-products-containing-palm-oil-for-sale-in-australia-2
  2. http://animals.change.org/#search/orangutans
  3. http://www.change.org/petitions/i-want-to-see-a-no-kill-policy-from-the-palm-oil-industry
  4. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/save-the-orangutans/
  5. http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-orangutan-demand-sustainable-palm-oil-use/sign.html

Ultimately there is a LOT of work to be done, but let’s face it, raising awareness of the issue is the first step, because if you don’t know about it, you can’t help stop it.


This article was written with admiration and thanks to leveraging and spreading the resource of the great work done and housed online at http://www.saynotopalmoil.com 



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Categories: Animals, Beliefs, Morals, Crime, Food, Health, Medicine


Digital and Comms nerd working in an INGO. PhD researcher (technology / gender / International development / fragile and conflict affected states / South Sudan). Bibliophile. Writer. Musician. Views my own.

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30 Comments on “Would YOU Kill An Orangutan? Say NO to Palm Oil.”

  1. March 31, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I like orangutans.

  2. Jack Osprey
    March 31, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Palm oil, whilst it causes large scale deforestation and horrific impacts on the native animals, is a large source of income for some of these poor developing countries such as Burma. Sacrificing our consumption of favoured products seems pointless in the big picture, yet I see this not solely from an economic “take that, producers!” vantage point. The same issue applies to gas emission on developing countries, should we restrict their development and growth through pollution limitation laws when developed countries have done the same in the past. Shall countries have their economic possibilities crippled for our own cultural or personal views? How is murdering livestock for meat not any worse than the death of these orangutans? We shouldn’t nit-pick at every difference another country has, nor have double standards for wildlife death in the production of food products.
    I merely suggest a contrasting view, not my own, for the sake of argument.

    • March 31, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

      Fair point as we have to think about the survival of local economy and an outright ban or sustainable roll out would most likely cause issues, but I can’t compare the livestock trade to this as the livestock trade sells meat for food and uses hide for leather. this is looking for another product and seemingly ‘wasteful’ and inhumane destruction of animals in the process which are not used for food, or for entertainment like circuses and the like, which incidentally I don’t support either and don’t attend as I disagree with animal performances of exotic animals for human pleasure.

      As humans we have a level of responsibility to protect the earth as much as we do to take resources and sustainment from it. Here it seems all take with little to no regard for consequence, other than monetary gain and local economy support. There have to be more sustainable ways for all parties than just saying its cheap and supports the local economy though surely? And trust me, if I was some kind of extreme animal activist I would be vegan and preaching how cruel the dairy industry is, but I’m not, I’m fine with eating animals raised and killed free range, sustainably and humanely, bit this just doesn’t sit right with me on a large number of levels.

      But thanks for raising the flip side of the argument which is exactly what this site is all about.

    • Troy
      April 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      Contrasting views are always important, however the problem here is that locals don’t receive any benefit from the palm oil industry which is owned by several very wealthy companies (not all Indonesian/Malaysian) so the profits do not filter down to locals by way of providing jobs, services, or infrastructure.

      The orangutans may be the “flagship” species in these areas but the forests are also home to critically endangered Sumatran tiger, elephants, and a myriad of other species. These forests are also the home of many indigenous people who are displaced from their land without any support in migrating from their forest environment to the nearest towns/cities. There are also terrible cases of palm oil companies hiring thugs to force villagers to leave their homes at risk of death – and in some reported cases their have been beheadings and infants killed as the villages have been burnt to the ground in raids (documented).

      The only people to benefit are a very very few rich individuals and everything else looses. The endangered flora and fauna, the indigenous people and humanity (carbon sinks lost and biodiversity shrunk).

    • bendy
      May 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

      Nail on the head. The common delimiter? – the monetary system.

      We need not be rid of the oil plantations or the livestock trade, just the abhorrent money-go-round that makes it all possible in the first place.

  3. March 31, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    Well written and thanks for speaking on the subject of palm oil.

    I am of the opinion that we can have our cake and eat it too in the sense that it costs so little for brands and companies to use only traceable sustainable palm oil where we can be assured that it has caused neither wildlife extinction or human rights abuses.

    How so? Certified sustainable palm oil today costs an average of $45 per ton. If you break that down into that box of cookies or the body cream, it works out to be something like one or two cents. So why haven’t brands used it more if it can get them positive public relations?

    We as consumers, have not asked for it. We’ve asked them to drop the use of palm oil, which they won’t as its cheaper and readily available. If we start to demand en masse that we want to see no killing or grief in our products, I bet they will start to use sustainable palm oil.European customers of the same brands that we buy in the US/canada are already starting to see segregated sustainable palm oil in their product. We must push these brands to give us the same thing.

    • March 31, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      Thanks Robert. Are you happy with the sources regulating the certifiable sustainable palm oil? I’ve read these are not always trustworthy? I agree on your thoughts on pushing to sustainable product over outright banning. Right now in australia and the EU it’s not even labelled though yet.

    • March 31, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

      Plus, it would be an excellent CSR project for all large consumer brands…. Free consumer brownie points? I’m surprised more haven’t jumped on the bandwagon even if just as a product differentiator!

  4. April 1, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Australian supermarkets are selling Easter hot cross buns containing palm oil http://m.sbs.com.au/news/#article1750428_Consumers-hot-and-cross-over-Easter-bun-palm-oil

  5. April 2, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    The only certifying body worth any credibility right now is the RSPO. The newly created ISPO( Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil) is light years away from being credible. The soon to be created MSPO( Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil ) looks like it will shadow the RSPO but anyway, until the RSPO cleans out the skeletons in its closet, we chose rather to look at the individual company, folks like New Britain palm oil and Agropalma that are vertical from plantation to refinery. Completely traceable.

    The EU is mandating palm oil labelling by the end of the year and its expected to drive sales of anything with palm oil down. Australia should be ashamed of bowing to palm oil lobby groups but there are plans afoot to make another call for labelling.

    You’d think jumping on the sustainable palm oil bandwagon is a good thing but going back to the credibility of certificates, showing an RSPO logo today isn’t exactly gonna get you brownie points.

    • April 2, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      Good points Robert. My dilemma is do I support the RSPO because it may be the basis of an accreditation that may mean something in the future or is it, in it’s current form, still doing more damage than is acceptable? Unfortunately I feel the latter is true. Anyone can become a “member” of RSPO and this in itself is misleading to consumers when it is confused with palm oil production “certified” by RSPO.

      The real killer? (Well, for orangutans anyway). Most orangutans (80%) live in secondary forest not even covered by the RSPO and this is where most are killed by palm oil production (directly and indirectly) and because of this it’s a horrific fact that RSPO certified production kills more orangutans than any other form of production.

      The only palm oil production in Malaysia or Borneo that is guaranteed not to kill the orangutan is that which is sourced from the Malaysian Peninsula where there are no orangutans left.

      • April 3, 2013 at 1:25 am #

        Troy, you support the RSPO but urge them to clean house at the same time. RSPO is the only thin wall remaining between conservation and open warfare on the natural environment and as palm companies spread to Africa, I have personally been engaged in two fights and in both cases, that thin wall and our demands for sustainable palm oil has been the only thing standing up against the open war.

        We have been in touch with the RSPO and will be demanding they clean house. Key tool we will be using is a time bound commitment by all their members. None of this “we’re working towards sustainability”. We want to know when and how and if they don’t comply, we’ll launch public campaigns asking the RSPO to remove them.

        • April 3, 2013 at 7:22 am #

          Robert. Yes, we should continue the push and lobby RSPO to clean house however, until they do, I would not openly support them.

          In Indonesia and Malaysia there is no thin wall for the orangutans only a thin veil of hope for the 20% of the population that live in habitat covered by RSPO initiatives.

          Tragically for the 80% of the orangutan population that live in secondary forest it’s not the non-RSPO members but the RSPO members that are their biggest threat.

          I understand that the habitat the future “clean” RSPO may protect is extremely important for many other endangered species, indigenous people and the forests/carbon sinks but it will not save the orangutan.

          Of course we also have the issue that when the palm oil companies have been kept at bay by consumer awareness and RSPO-like bodies we’ll need to keep the habitat protected from other threats such as the pulp and paper industries. I’m not suggesting that the issue is hopeless, rather that the approach is protecting the habitat through other initiatives.

          • April 3, 2013 at 7:34 am #

            Escaped ape,
            Tragically for the 80% of the orangutan population that live in secondary forest it’s not the non-RSPO members but the RSPO members that are their biggest threat. – Name them! We’ll go at them if this is true.

            As for the mining and the pulp and paper business, I know that out of the 6000 land fights in Indonesia today, 90% are against these industries. However, the original blog focussed on orangutans and palm oil.

            I am urging the true natives of Indonesia to stand up for their ancestral land rights. Its stick and stones against guns and bullets but sooner or later, they have to draw that line in the sand and make a stand

  6. April 4, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    Lou, please complete this short survey we just launched today and share it.

    If you feel like engaging the RSPO further, please join the facebook event here.

    • April 4, 2013 at 7:38 am #

      Thanks Robert, will do. And feel free to share the local petition we have set up to any of your Australian relevant sites/friends. http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/the-australian-government-label-all-products-containing-palm-oil-for-sale-in-australia-2

      • April 4, 2013 at 7:45 am #

        I’ve shared that petition already. Trust me, if Australia makes a stand against conventional palm oil, it will be the last country to do so and will send a strong message to the palm oil companies.

        • April 4, 2013 at 7:49 am #

          Thanks Robert. Unfortunately it is so easy to see the size of the task ahead and not try to take action as one individual or a small group, but if we all had that attitude, nothing would ever change for the better and minorities and injustices would not have any representation. I agree with you, that Australia will be late to the table with this, but I hope we help to raise some awareness, support and push it in the right direction. Industry and politics seem arterially intertwined here…

  7. May 8, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Lou, thank you for this informative article. The opening paragraph caught my eye a bit “I am not vegan or vegeterian”. I do not want to judge, but I feel I should point out that animals go through great pain and suffering when they go into a slaughter house. For sure you wouldnt want that for orangutans, but why not for cows, chickens and other farm animals too? The environmental impact of farm animals is huge too (as is the harvesting of palm oil), I encourage you to watch the movie Earthlings to gain a full awareness of where your food comes from. Best regards!!

    • May 8, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

      Thanks Greg. I agree with you to an extent, and I do buy for instance organic free range meat. While I understand this doesn’t remove the cruelty of a slaughterhouse death, feel that we should support the humane lives (and deaths) our food right through the cycle. I eat beef for instance and wear leather shoes, coats or bags but feel that we are using the animal to live and not being wasteful. After all a lot of farm stock is in existence at all because of supply and demand, which would most likely become that step closer to extinct if we were all vegan and had no commercial use for them. I used to be vegetarian because of my concern for ethically farmed meat but realised that my real concern was more about the quality of life and humane deaths than in abstinence altogether. For example if orangutans were farmed for food for instance, they would not be nearing extinction either, not that I’m suggesting we start eating them, you get my point though. With our power comes responsibility, that should be for all animals humane treatment, and ongoing existence. I feel I can embrace that their without becoming vegan. Keen to watch the movie though so thanks for sharing.

  8. Yurika Bereux
    May 9, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    really great and informative article and I hope it gets shared around a lot. This is important information and change must happen!

  9. Orang indah
    May 10, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    How many RSPO companies have been prosecuted or lost their certification for breaking the rules and the law? The killings still go on, take a look at Centre for Orangutan Protections (COP) website and Facebook pages….

  10. Lillian
    May 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I am very sad to learn of this. No I didn’t know about this at all. It is one of those awful and complicated issues that you want to just solve but it is so twisted with all these products that palm oil is an ingredient in. I have tried to stop using certain things before and found that I really got into a tangled web.


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