Oil palm is a remarkably efficient crop that provides the majority of the world's vegetable oil and generates valuable revenue for the developing countries where it is grown. Trade value is US$50 billion a year for the commodity that goes into about half the products on supermarket shelves (soap, margarine, ice cream, noodles and chocolate, to name a few), but palm oil has struggled on the road to sustainability. It is even a candidate for some UK power plants as a cheap but unsustainable fossil-fuel alternative.
The sustainable production of palm oil, however, is not without additional costs. These include growing processes and techniques as well as ensuring that production sources are managed in an environmentally and sustainable manner. As these extra costs are passed along, with a domino effect on suppliers, manufacturers and, of course, the consumer.
Environmental and social issues: According to Helen Buckland of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), a passionate advocacy group, the development of oil palm plantations has brought extensive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, threatening the existence of the orang-utan and many other critically endangered species. Increasing tracts of arable land in Thailand are also being converted to oil palm plantations.
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