YAY! Vegan Chocolate says NO to unsustainable palm oil!

Vegan chocolate has, almost without exception, turned its back on using palm oil as an ingredient! The phrase 'Palm Oil Free' has become almost as prevalent as 'Dairy Free' or 'Gluten Free' across vegan products and packaging.

Palm oil will rarely be listed as one of the key ingredients in your products, but it is present in up to 50% of all packaged products in your local supermarket ranging from chocolate and peanut butter, to soaps and beauty products.

Large manufacturers prefer to use palm oil for one reason: price.

Producing large yields of palm oil is more cost-effective than other products. In the case of chocolate, manufacturers found that they could use cheaper palm oil instead of the traditional cocoa butter to increase profits.

So what's wrong with using palm oil?

Palm oil plantations have been responsible for devastating amounts of deforestation in South America and South East Asia. Vast swathes of rainforest have been cleared to make way for extensive palm oil plantations. Borneo in South-East Asia is losing over 1 million hectares of rainforest each year, much of which is attributed to palm oil plantations. The same thing is happening in dozens of countries across the globe.

Why should I care?

Deforestation has devastating effects for wildlife and for the environment.

Endangered orangutans are losing millions of hectares of their habitats to palm oil plantations.

Habitat Loss - Rainforests are home to an incredibly diverse range of animals. Palm oil plantations have been directly responsible for huge declines in populations of endangered species like the orangutan, clouded leopard, Sumatran rhino and pygmy elephant. These animals have spent thousands of years evolving to live in that habitat, only for it to be replaced with a single homogenous crop that is not suited to their needs.

Clearing rainforests is not only detrimental to the resident animals. Millions of tonnes of carbon are stored in these ancient trees. Felling them releases this carbon in to the atmosphere, which is contributing to climate change.

Palm oil producers continually cut down palm trees, to prevent them from growing too tall which would make the seeds difficult to harvest. This means that carbon is continually released in to the atmosphere.

What alternatives can be used in vegan chocolate?

Most vegan chocolate producers make use of cocoa butter which, along with cocoa powder, comes from cocoa beans. This is a great way to support cocoa farms and vegan chocolate manufacturers often source the majority of their ingredients from one farm!

Make sure to read up on your vegan chocolate producer's ethical statement so you can be sure they are sourcing their cocoa butter ethically and in a way that supports the local economy. Check for Fairtrade certification or information about sourcing through local communities or co-ops.

Is palm oil always bad?

There has been a huge effort to control the palm oil industry and many manufacturers are seeking to switch to palm oil that has been obtained sustainably. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) introduced and oversees certification. There is, however, still a lot of uncertainty around this certification and there have been many claims that RSPO certified plantations are still carrying out unsustainable practices.

For vegan chocolate, there is natural and traditional alternative in the shape of cocoa butter that we can all enjoy for years to come!