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It's not just Palm Oil.

Many of us already know the destruction palm oil has upon biodiversity in many countries, Indonesia being the largest producer in the world. Palm oil is extremely versatile, and the plant itself is productive in growth. It’s an ingredient in many food products such as chocolate and biscuits and can even be found in your shampoo and toothpaste. To provide oil to the high demand of these products means' the need for land. Rainforest's are demolished to make way for palm oil plantation's, causing devastation to rainforest biodiversity. But like I said, we all know too well of the catastrophic effect of palm oil. I’m not writing this article to recite all the facts many of us already know about palm oil. I’m here to shine a light on a ‘by product’ of palm oil plantations and help to suggest a realistic framework in how we can all help with the damage palm oil plantations cause.

Photo credit: Charlie Dailey

Palm kernel meal. Ever heard of it? Me neither until I delved into a book called ‘Dead Zone’ by Philip Lymbery. In his book Lymbery depicts endangered species being inadvertently affected by the meat industry. One animal he discusses is the beloved flagship species, the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Indonesia, one of many countries in southeast Asia to cultivate palm oil in large plantations for international consumption. However, palm oil isn’t the only product being produced on palm plantations, so is palm kernel meal. But what is palm kernel meal?

"Ultimately, Dead Zone asks the question: What kind of legacy do we want to leave for our children?" - Philip Lymbery, Author of Dead Zone.

Palm kernel meal is less known about and is rarely campaigned against. Palm kernel meal is the edible seed from the reddish fruit found on the palm tree. The oil is extracted, and the flesh of the fruit is stripped. Palm kernel is rendered down into palm kernel meal, also known as ‘cake’ which is then transported around the world to be feed to industrially bred farm animals as a source of protein. The biggest users of palm kernel meal are the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, China and the UK. However, world production of palm kernel meal more than double to 6.9 billion tonnes a year in the decade to 2011. The EU was the biggest importer of this, accounting for around half the world’s production in 2012. By contributing to the meat industry through consumption we are speeding up rainforest destruction and biodiversity loss without even knowing it.

The total production of palm kernel for the top producing countries and the rest of the world (other) in 2012 and 2014. Data Source: Index Mundi (2004).

Primates are just one order affected by the palm industry. Many affected are native to southeast Asia (the largest producer of palm products), including Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), lar gibbon (Hylobates lar), proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatusi) and Müller’s Bornean gibbon (Hylobates muelleri). Other species of primate have also been feared to be under threat if we do not start making changes to our lifestyle soon. With palm oil and palm kernel being in such high demand the palm industry is making business around the world, also taking rainforests in Latin America and West and central Africa threatening species including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Preuss’s colobus (Procolobus preussi) and the Cross-River gorilla’s (Gorilla gorilla diehli). So, what can we do about the potential extinction of OUR primate species due to palm oil plantations? Decreasing your overall consumption of meat products (particularly cows) will, in the long run, have a lasting effect on the palm oil industry we know of today. By cutting out meat we will cut the middleman out, ultimately no longer contributing to the production of palm kernel meal. Other more well-known strategies are to also decrease our consumption of palm oil or opt for RSPO (The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified products (sustainable palm oil is controversial, please find the link below on RSPO and sustainable palm oil).

Primates affected by Palm Plantations: (Left to right) Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) (Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr), Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus rollaway)(photo: African Foundation Society), and Mueller's gibbon (Hylobates Muelleiri) (Photo: Yvonne LaCharity).

If you would like to explore this topic further and step into the challenge of tackling the palm industry, I have provided a list of resources below.

The threat to African Primates:

Palm oil production in Africa:

BBC report of threat to African primates:

Shop mindfully:

Learn more about Palm Kernel:

Being vegetarian in easy steps:

Issues with 'sustainable' palm oil:

Orang-utans' under threat:

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