The European Parliament, situated in Brussels, Belgium, and Strasbourg, France, has passed a law known as the “European Union Deforestation Due Diligence Proposal,” which aims to transfer the responsibility of combating deforestation from the government to companies and consumers. It follows a commitment to phase out palm oil as a biofuel by 2030, as well as several other laws and declarations vilifying palm oil and aiming to restrict palm oil imports into Europe, all ostensibly to minimize deforestation.
This current plan continues the EU’s long-running campaign against palm oil. Unfortunately, it seems that the EU would rather select one sector it dislikes and constantly punish it, at the cost of farmers throughout the globe and consumers and companies in the West, rather than search for a real solution to the deforestation issue.
There are several reasons fighting palm oil is a poor strategy. The assumption that palm oil is to blame for deforestation is excessively simplistic and ultimately inaccurate. Palm oil is far better for the environment than alternative products, and innovation within the industry in recent years has made it possible to reduce its effect on the natural world even more.
According to data from Global Canopy, a nonprofit organization, deforestation from palm oil has reached its lowest level in four years. Commitments to reducing deforestation are more prevalent in palm oil supply chains compared to other sectors such as livestock, paper and soy. These advances are predictable, given the strong motivation for palm oil producers to limit their influence on the natural environment. The palm oil industry has succeeded in this area.
We need vegetable oils. Assuming we still want our grocery store shelves to include food and amenities, there is no way around it. Palm oil is one of the most popular vegetable oils in the world at present. It provides 40 percent of the world’s vegetable oil needs. Amazingly, it accounts for just 6 percent of the land used for that purpose.
The manufacture of palm oil is four to 10 times more land-efficient than the production of other vegetable oils, which means that if you insist on avoiding palm oil, you will compel farmers and producers to cut down many more trees to supply your need for vegetable oils.
The European Union is fundamentally attempting to address a non-existent issue. Already, 90 percent of all palm oil imported into Europe is certified as sustainable. This percentage continues to climb fast as industry innovation continues. In other words, there are no opportunities for European consumers or policymakers to significantly reduce deforestation by reducing palm oil use. It makes no difference whatsoever.
As manufacturers convert from palm oil to oils such as sunflower, rapeseed and olive, which need more acreage and hence more trees to be cut down to produce the same quantity of product, the situation is expected to worsen. Banning palm oil fuels deforestation. Despite this, the EU remains unyielding in its fight against palm oil, and there is no indication that it will stop.
If we continue down this road, the issue of deforestation will not be resolved anytime soon. Furthermore, food price hikes are almost certain to escalate since palm oil is less expensive to produce than other vegetable oils (unsurprisingly, since it requires so much less land).
There is a genuine possibility that other countries across the globe could soon worry about missing their COP26 anti-deforestation goals and, in search of a fast solution, adopt the European Union’s strategy. That would be a significant error. The EU is a terrible role model in this area.