What shoppers need to know about palm oil and Iceland's banned Christmas ad

What shoppers need to know about palm oil and Iceland's banned Christmas ad

The body responsible for rejecting a Christmas ad from British supermarket chain Iceland and Greenpeace faced a ‘storm of abuse’ last month.  

The banned ad, a repurposed ‘No Palm Oil’ film from Greenpeace, was about the impact of palm oil and Iceland’s pledge to cut it out of all products by the end of the year.

Palm oil

It is not the only reason everyone’s talking about the controversial vegetable oil, which can be found in all sorts of things, from shampoo to bread and chocolate.

This week the Norwegian parliament has voted to make it the first country to avoid biofuels such as palm oil that are linked with catastrophic deforestation. 

And awareness – and debate over – its damaging effects on wildlife and forests have been steadily increasing.

Why the media storm over Iceland’s Christmas ad?

Iceland had tweeted that the ad, which you might have seen before via Facebook or elsewhere online, was not approved by regulators ‘as it was seen to be in support of a political cause’.

Greenpeace’s film, which raises awareness of deforestation by using an animated Orangutan to show the consequences of palm oil plantations invading their homes, went viral after being banned.

It was named ‘most powerful Christmas ad of 2018’.

It’s had millions of views and has clearly struck a chord.

What is palm oil and why is it bad for the environment?

Palm oil is made from fruits of African oil palm trees, which are grown extensively on plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as the tree’s native West and Central Africa.

It is found in many products we buy in supermarkets and in biofuel in some parts of Europe.

According to Rainforest-rescue.org, at 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly-produced vegetable oil.

And its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products.


To meet increasing demand for it, an area the size of a football pitch is torn down in Indonesia’s rainforest every 25 seconds, according to Greenpeace.

As well as these rainforests being hotspots for biodiversity and vital for regulating the Earth’s climate, Greenpeace says there is a huge impact on wildlife.

‘Indonesia has more threatened and endangered species than any country on earth – largely because their habitats have been destroyed, in many cases to expand palm oil plantations,’ it says.

What’s being done to reduce the impact of palm oil consumption?

Greenpeace is putting pressure on the big brands ‘to make sure they put pressure on their suppliers’.

It says: ‘In the past decade, brands including Nestle, Unilever and Mars promised they would clean up the palm oil in their products by 2020 – but with less than a year to go, forest destruction in Indonesia shows no signs of slowing down.’

In 2012 the UK government set a commitment for 100% of the palm oil used in the UK to be from sustainable sources that don’t harm nature or people by the end of 2015.

It was reported in February last year that the UK missed that target.

What products contain palm oil and how can you cut it out of your life?

Products containing palm oil range from lipsticks to detergents, bread, chocolate, and shampoo.

It might seem unavoidable when it is in 50% of supermarket products, but MoneyLens has been looking into ways to reduce consumption.

Not all of the tips below will save you money, but they could be better for the environment.

Here’s what we’ve learned…

1.       Fresh ingredients are best

Fresh is best

You can reduce your personal consumption of palm oil by buying less ‘ready-to-eat’ meals and processed snacks.

As palm oil is high in saturated fats, this could be better for your health and bank balance as well if you plan your meals in advance!

Some say if a product’s saturated fat content is more than 40% of the total then it is likely to contain palm oil.

2.       Check the label

Check labels for palm oil – not just on food products, but beauty products and detergents too.

Coconut oil

Unfortunately this is easier said than done.

Visit the charity WWF’s peel back the label page and you’ll find a list of other names palm oil and its derivatives can appear under, including ‘vegetable oil’ and ‘vegetable fat’ or other terms including the word ‘palm’.

In Europe, new rules were introduced in 2011 designed to tackled generic labelling of products containing palm oil.

Not satisfied? Try products with clearly labelled alternatives such as sunflower oil or coconut oil.

3.       Consume palm oil produced in a responsible manner

The WWF charity has argued you don’t have to give up products containing palm oil.

It wants to ‘encourage more companies to commit to and follow through on using on certified sustainable palm oil’.

It says you should look for the RSPO label (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) or the Green Palm label for products that ‘support the transition to certified palm oil’.

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