The damaging oil in your kosher food

By Rabbi Neil Amswych, October 6, 2011

The palm is popular with Jews during Succot. Yet enviromentally-damaging palm oil is used in one-in-10 household products, from food to cosmetics. It is particularly evident in kosher foods.

While a weak case could be made that palm oil production fulfils the mitzvah of not being wasteful by being an incredibly efficient producer of oil, it is environmentally catastrophic. It causes massive deforestation, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, leading to loss of habitat for endangered orangutans and Sumatran tigers. By virtue of its deforestation, Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Labelling of palm oil in products is very poor. Some companies use the term "vegetable oil", masking their products' true contents.

Although small palm oil collectives in African nations benefit local communities, it is impossible to know whether our palm oil comes from such sources - in fact, it is highly unlikely, since Indonesia and Malaysia are by far the world's biggest producers of palm oil.

So, what to do? The most obvious response is to avoid any products with palm oil and to write to the manufacturers. There is currently no such thing as sustainable palm oil. The more who do this, the more effective a statement it will make and the more likely firms might change their ingredients. Investigate the facts about palm oil, talk about the issue and raise awareness of the huge damage being done to global biodiversity.

Rabbi Neil Amswych is minister of Bournemouth Reform Synagogue

Last updated: 11:10am, October 6 2011