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Palm oil, a dangerous unknown

Palm oil, a dangerous unknown

By Laura Villadiego

Palm oil comes from a tree native to Africa that today has spread throughout the entire tropical belt. It is the oil that is consumed the most in the world, according to FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It is also the one most traded internationally, its production is mainly concentrated in Malaysia and Indonesia. It can be found in daily consumer, hygiene and beauty products.

Its consumption is related to the increase in cardiovascular diseases, due to its high content of saturated fats that increase the cholesterol index. It is associated with health benefits, due to the concentration of vitamin A and E. However, once refined, it can have negative effects on the human body as recognized by the World Health Organization in 2003. There is controversy about its effects and also There are experts who assure that there are no risks associated with its consumption. Some countries have already started to control it.


The cultivation of oil palm has a significant impact on the environment. Much of Southeast Asia is under a dense haze of smoke from the fires that in Indonesia every year deforest hundreds of hectares to plant the palm. Deforestation in the area has advanced by leaps and bounds, threatening some unique species, such as the orangutan.

The defenders of the oil palm assure that it is much more productive and that with much less surface it is possible to obtain a higher yield than with rapeseed or soybeans. This translates into having to plant less to get the same. For this reason, the aim is to obtain a certified oil palm, whose cultivation does not pose a threat to the environment.

Extensions of palm cultivation influence the destruction of the habitat of local communities in Asia, Africa and South America. In countries like Liberia or Colombia, it has been linked to the expropriation of land from poor peasants who now have to work for paltry wages for the companies that have occupied their plots. Its defenders say that thanks to palm oil, many families have risen out of poverty and have improved their standard of living due to its high performance. Too many questions about a key product in the food of half the world.

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