Palm FAQs for Champions

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. It is cheap and efficient, making it the world’s most widely used vegetable oil.

Palm oil is used in the production of foods such as cake, chocolate, biscuits, margarine and frying fats. It is also found in cosmetics, soap, shampoo, toilet paper and cleaning products. Up to 50% of packaged products in an average UK supermarket now contain palm oil [2] and 70% of all cosmetics.

Why is palm oil so popular?

It is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil.

It is odourless, tasteless and has a smooth and creamy texture, so doesn’t alter the smell or look of food products. It can be semi-solid at room temperature so can keep spreads spreadable.  It is resistant to oxidation so can give products a longer shelf-life. It is stable at high temperatures so helps to give fried products a crispy and crunchy texture.

How do I spot palm oil?

If the product contains either the words ‘palm’, ‘stear’, ‘laur’, or ‘glyc’, then it is likely it will contain palm oil. Palm oil can appear on ingredients lists under 200 different names.

Where does palm oil come from?

Indonesia and Malaysia make up over 85% of global supply, but there are 42 other countries that also produce palm oil. [6]

What are the impacts of unsustainable palm oil?

Many people are aware that unsustainable palm practice is linked to deforestation and climate change, with habitats being destroyed as a result of land clearance for palm oil plantations. It has also contributed to displacing indigenous communities, caused forest fires, and is a key cause of emissions in SE Asia.

193 critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species are impacted globally by palm oil, and unsustainable palm oil is one of the biggest threats facing wildlife in places like Borneo and Sumatra. 150,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost over the past 16 years, with palm oil being one of the main risks. [2]

Why shouldn’t I avoid palm oil and switch to an alternative oil?

In September 2021, almost 100 globally-renowned conservation organisations, including WWF, Conservation International, Jane Goodall Institute, Save the Rhino and Sumatran Orangutan Society, came together to sign a joint statement in support of sustainable palm oil, committing to driving the palm oil industry in the right direction, and supporting a move to sustainable palm oil and not a blanket boycott. [2a]

Oil palm produces up to 9 times more oil per unit area than other major oil crops. A switch to another type of edible vegetable oil would require up to 9 times as much land to produce the same yield – worsening deforestation and other impacts.

A blanket boycott of palm oil could drive the price of palm oil down, increasing demand, especially in markets which have less interest in sustainability. This would reduce the incentive to produce environmentally sustainable palm oil. [2a]

In Indonesia, over 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Stopping the production of palm oil altogether would create significant problems for those smallholders who support their families by working in this industry. [2]

Both Efeca and Chester Zoo strongly believe that if we don’t demand sustainable palm oil then the producers won’t have motivation to produce it – we need to be part of the solution.

What is sustainable palm oil?

Sustainable palm oil reduces the impact on biodiversity and the environment and adheres to high standards of human rights.

Malaysia and Indonesia have mandatory standards in-country, but the most widely recognised international scheme is a voluntary certification scheme regulated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

As of 2018, RSPO certified palm oil must be deforestation free. It must also meet certain standards, which include assessing land for its conservation value before developing new plantations; including wildlife corridors; respecting workers’ rights including fair pay, improving working conditions and prohibiting illegal and child labour; and gaining permission from communities beforehand.

Sustainable palm comes in three main forms:

What are the benefits of certified sustainable palm oil?

What is the UK doing about sustainable palm oil?

The UK roundtable on sourcing sustainable palm oil, convened by the government, was set up in 2012. The initial aim was to work towards 100% sustainable palm oil in the UK by 2015.  Each year, Efeca collates data on behalf of all UK industry, and writes an Annual Progress Report. Currently 77% of palm oil brought in to the UK (as crude and refined oil) is sustainable. [11]

If you require any more information on the Dorset Sustainable Palm Oil Community project, or have any further questions about palm oil, email us at


[1] Chester Zoo (2020) – Coexistence for Orangutans and Agriculture 

[2] Chester Zoo (2021) – What is palm oil?

[2a] Chester Zoo (2021) – Statement from conservation organsations

[3] IUCN Oil Palm Task Force (2018) – Oil palm and biodiversity 

[4] New Food Magazine (2021) – Sustainable Palm Oil 

[5] Schmidt, J. and De Rosa, M. (2019) – Comparative LCA of RSPO-certified and non-certified palm oil

[6] WWF (2020) – 8 things to know about palm oil 

[7] Morgans, C. et al. (2018) – Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives. 

[8] ICCT (2016) – Ecological Impacts of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia.

[9] P4F (2020) – Palms up for gender equality: the women leading the way in Ghana’s palm oil sector

[10] RSPO (2019) – RSEP Solidaridad

[11] Efeca (2020) – 2019 Annual Progress Report: UK Roundtable on Sourcing Sustainable Palm Oil 

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