Another reason to avoid palm oil: we don’t like pandemics

choose palm oil free spreads Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all far more connected than we might have realized.

It’s something Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, a behavioural scientist with EcoHealth Alliance in New York City, which does disease surveillance and mitigation work around the world, has long been pointing out.

“We are not isolated,” she says, pointing to “a direct link between deforestation and virus emergence.”

A massive culprit in deforestation is the global demand for palm oil. Also appearing in ingredients lists as tocopherol, Vitamin E, mono- and diglycerides and vegetable oil, among other things, palm oil is in everything from bread to toothpaste to lipstick. Deforestation to create palm oil plantations displaces Indigenous people, kills or displaces endangered species such as orangutans, tigers, and elephants and contributes massively to greenhouse gas emissions.

And demand is anticipated to grow.

As animal habitat decreases, it puts humans in closer contact, increasing our risk of zoonotic disease—transmitted from animals to humans—which makes up 75 per cent of infectious diseases. “A major effort to retain intact forest cover has countless benefits,” says Dr. Chakraborty, “especially to reduce virus emergence events.”

Cottagers can help by purchasing products that are palm oil free. Increasingly, not-for-profits such as World Wildlife Fund and Rainforest Alliance, are putting out information on the importance of choosing such products and a quick online search will often reveal products that are palm oil free. By purchasing these over others, we are sending a message to companies that we want products that don’t harm others or put us at higher risk of climate change-induced issues, including more pandemics.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of popular cottage products available in palm oil-free versions:

Bread: Dave’s Killer Bread

Ice Cream: Ben & Jerry’s

Peanut butter: While some Skippy versions don’t contain palm oil (the low-fat versions generally do), tips on finding palm-oil free peanut butter include avoiding those that don’t need to be stirred and those that don’t need to be refrigerated. Instead, stick to those with ingredients that include peanuts and salt.

Hazelnut spread: Move over Nutella. Kraft Hazelnut Spread boasts that it’s palm-oil free. And, from accounts of cottage kids, it tastes great.

Sunscreen: Both Badger and Kiss My Face sunscreens have many products that are palm-oil free

Popcorn: Angie’s A Boom Chicka Pop in Sea Salt, Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn, Light Kettle Corn, Salted Caramel and Buttery Caramel

S’mores: To make the old cottager favourite, choose Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows (regular size and miniature); Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar; and Honey Maid graham crackers (but not the low-fat version, which does contain “DATEM,” a palm oil derivative).


Read more: Which invasive species threaten coniferous forests? Scientists can now predict

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