Few brands have undergone a glow-up quite as grand as Iceland.
Once a Kerry Katona kingdom, its morphed into a beacon of morality and innovation in the food market.
And the apex of its blossoming came with this years banned Christmas ad.
To recap: Iceland brought out an ad which was made with/by Greenpeace, highlighting the devastation that palm oil causes in places like Indonesia where Orangutans are just trying to live their lives.
A very touching campaign with a very salient point.
While some of us have been conscious of the ills of palm oil for a while, the vast majority of the public have no idea that its in so much of their foods and household products.
20,000,000 hectares of land are currently devoted to palm oil production – mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, West Africa and parts of Latin America. That equates to an area almost five times the size of Switzerland.
Even those of us who do know about the overwhelming presence of palm oil find ourselves doing very little about it, aside from buying one of Lushs amazing Orangutan soaps (the proceeds of which go towards helping the Sumatran Orangutan Society, trying to reverse the effects of deforestation in Sumatra).
Why? Well because palm oil is a bit of a contentious subject in the vegan community.
If youre eating something thats been made with a product responsible for the deaths of loads of wild animals, can one really say its vegan, even if it contains no actual animal products?
Theres been quite a lot of panic over exactly how Iceland is going to remove palm oil from its shelves and whether this is going to impinge on their products plant-based properties.
Keith Hann, director of Corporate Affairs told Metro.co.uk that rumours Iceland was going to replace palm with dairy were untrue.
We have replaced palm oil with a variety of oils and fats depending on what achieves the best result for each individual product, he said.
The most common replacements are sunflower oil and rapeseed oil. In a small number of cases we have replaced palm oil with butter, but these were not vegetarian or vegan products.
What is true is that there has been a small and temporary reduction in the number of vegan lines currently in store in order to make room for special Christmas lines, which will include a vegan No Turkey Christmas dinner.
The full plant-based range will return – with additions – early in the New Year.”
Its disappointing that theyre reducing their vegan output over Christmas but at least the plant-based products that do remain will be entirely dairy-free.
But one does wonder just how worthy Icelands move really is, nonetheless.
They definitely are doing something right by scrapping non-sustainable palm oil but it may be a reductive solution to a far bigger problem.
You see, its not palm oil itself thats the problem
Palm oil isnt destroying the landscape – deforestation is happening in order to keep up with consumer demand. But palm isnt even the biggest contributor to that destruction and over-farming.
You know which commodity is responsible for the largest share of global deforestation? Animal agriculture and soy.
Our unquenchable thirst for cheap meat means that a further 480,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared every single year to make way for soybean plantations. Just 6% of all the soybeans production ends up being sold for human consumption (thats to us vegans and veggies), while 75% ends up as feed for animal agriculture.
Palm oil is a relatively small contributor to the issue of deforestation when compared to the impact of meat.
Plus, not all palm oil is the same.
Why not simply switch to sustainable palm oil sources?
According to the WWF, the solution isnt simply to replace palm oil with other types of vegetable oil – like Iceland proposes – because thatd mean much larger amounts of land would need to be used, since palm trees produce up to 10 times more oil than other crops per unit of cultivated land.
This would result in serious environmental damage, with the risk that more forests would need to be converted into agricultural land, they explain.
Palm oil plays a massive role in keeping farmers and their families in some of the worlds poorest countries in work. In Indonesia and Malaysia, some 4.5 million people rely on palm oil to survive financially.
So what would sustainable palm oil look like?
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil has set out a set of principles that need to be met in order to be classed as sustainable.
Their criteria states that no primary forests or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are fundamental to meeting basic or traditional cultural needs of local communities (high conservation value areas), can be cleared.
They also say that you cant go around slashing pesticides on crops, that you have to treat workers fairly and that local communities must be informed before anyone plans the development of new plantations.
Sustainable palm oil not only fulfills global food demand (red palm oil is very rich in E and A vitamins), it also supports poverty reduction, local interests, and protects the environment and wildlife.
Iceland may have started an important conversation, but doing a full ban on palm oil might not be the best answer.