Frozen food retailer Iceland has hit the headlines this week after a television advertisement by the supermarket was banned for being “too political”.

The ad features a cartoon of a young girl whose bedroom has been invaded by a baby orangutan, highlighting the plight of orangutans who have lost their habitat due to deforestation.

The ad, part of a pledge by Iceland to remove palm oil from its products, has sparked outrage online over the decision by Clearcast for it not to be broadcast.

Clearcast, the organisation responsible for approving most British television advertising, did not approve the ad on the grounds that it breaches rules related to political advertising.

The ad was originally made by environmental charity Greenpeace, and advertising rules dictate that an organisation must demonstrate that it is not a political advertiser before its material can be broadcast .

The ad has so far had three million views on Iceland’s YouTube channel, 13 million views on its Facebook page, and a petition for the ad to be broadcast on TV has reached more than 670,000 signatures.

Despite not making it onto television screens, the ad has prompted an increase of public awareness of the impact of palm oil production. But what is palm oil and should we by boycotting it?

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an oil derived from the fruit of oil palms, and is a common cooking ingredient particularly in parts of Africa, South East Asia and Brazil.

Due to its solid fat content, viscosity and density, the oil can be used in many different products.

According to Orangutan Foundation International, it is now found in half of the packaged food and other products found on supermarket shelves, including many types of shampoo, lipstick, soap, chocolate, ice cream, bread and margarine. It is also frequently used as a biofuel and in animal agriculture.

Why is it bad for the environment?

Although palm oil can be produced responsibly, the high yield of oil palms compared to other types of oil has led to large areas of forest in Indonesia being cleared to make room for the crop. Many environmental groups have said has been detrimental to biodiversity, and has led to the destruction of the natural habitat of the three surviving species of orangutan.

Palm cultivation produces 38% of the world’s total vegetable oil supply, and according to The Orangutan Project, in the last 20 years over 3.5m hectares of forest in Indonesia and Malaysia has been destroyed to fuel its production. As a result, orangutans are now critically endangered.

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Palm oil alternatives

With an increasing demand for palm oil driving the $40bn industry, many are now calling for consumers to boycott brands like Cadbury’s, Nestle and PepsiCo for their use of palm oil.

However, boycotting may not be the answer. Although palm oil production is having severe environmental consequences, its alternatives may unfortunately be just as bad.

Palm oil has a very high yield, meaning that a greater quantity of oil can be produced from a smaller area of land. This means that other types of oil such as rapeseed or coconut may in fact require just as much land. Palm oil also uses fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than some alternatives.

The answer may lie instead with sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an organisation that offers certification for companies indicating that the oil in their products has been produced in a way that is sustainable and does not involve the clearing of rainforest for plantations. About 19% of palm oil produced currently has an RSPO certificate.

As well as this, some companies have signed zero deforestation pledges. As of March 2017, 447 companies have made commitments to reduce deforestation in the production of palm oil and other products.

Earlier this year, the European Union Parliament voted to ban biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020.

RSPO certified brands

The following well known brands have been awarded the RSPO certification:

Nestlé

Unilever

Kellogg’s

Starbucks

L’Oreal

Mars

Hershey’s

Mondelēz

Procter & Gamble