What is palm oil?

Palm oil comes from the oil palm plant native to West Africa. It has become the world’s most widely produced and consumed vegetable oil, and is now found in over half of all supermarket products.
This high-yielding plant was introduced to Indonesia and Malaysia in the early 1990s.  Today these South East Asian countries, renowned for their extraordinary plant and wildlife biodiversity, produce over 90% of the world’s total palm oil. Currently 62 million metric tonnes are produced annually, but this is predicted to double by 2020!

What is the issue?

If grown sustainably, palm oil is fine. The problem is the illegal destruction of rainforest and peatland habitat, and subsequently, the loss of wildlife species, to produce it. The predominant countries that produce palm oil, Indonesia and Malaysia, are regions that house great biodiversity. 

Currently, illegal deforestation and the unsustainable production of palm oil is threatening the survival of thousands of animal species, including the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Asian rhino and elephant that rely on these forest ecosystems to survive. 

The story of palm oil starts in the rainforest, home to more than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. Rainforests act as the lungs of our planet; they recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen, store water, prevent soil erosion and protect biodiversity, but they’re under serious threat.

Ongoing illegal deforestation and the unsustainable production of palm oil is threatening the survival of thousands of rainforest species, including the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Asian rhino and elephant that rely on these forest ecosystems to survive. 

Join us to help create a forest-friendly future

  1. Discover more about palm oil and certified sustainable palm oil in this interactive article at The Guardian.
  2. For further informative reading, up to date articles are being posted each month in their The Palm Oil Debate section. 
  3. Choose wisely when shopping - use our wallet card to help you check labels

Palm Oil FAQs

Our handy wallet card contains a list of common names for palm oil.

Palm oil can be listed as:

  1. Palm oil kernel
  2. Anything containing the words “Palmitate” or “Palmate”
  3. Elaeis Gunieensis (scientific name for the oil palm plant)
  4. Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  5. Hexadecanoic or Palmitic Acid

Likely to be palm oil:  

  1. Vegetable Oil
  2. Anything containing the words “stearate, stearyl”
  3. Anything containing the words “cetyl, cetearyl”
  4. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
  5. Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  6. Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  7. Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
  8. Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate
  9. Steareth -2 and Steareth -20
  10. Emulsifier 422, 430-436, 465-467, 470-478, 481-483, 493-495, 570
  1. Palm oil is now the world's most widely consumed vegetable oil with current global production (62 million metric tonnes) predicted to double by 2020
  2. Labelling was strongly supported by public health groups including the Australian Public Health Association, Nutrition Australia and the Australian Medical Association
  3. 92% of New Zealanders and 84% of Australians support mandatory palm oil labelling (UMR Research 2016)
  4. New Zealand's Ministry of Health itself warns that consuming too much palm oil is bad for health.
  5. Around 90% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. In these 2 countries, deforestation to grow it is decimating vital rainforest ecosystems and driving wildlife species like orangutan, tiger, rhino and elephant towards extinction. This is despite non-forested land being available
  6. Palm oil can be grown sustainably on non-forested land, but currently only around 14% of palm oil that is produced is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) – which certifies palm oil plantations to ensure they are deforestation-free​.
  7. Oil is extracted from both the pulp and the kernel of the fruit. Palm oil is made by squeezing the palm kernels. Derivatives are also used in many products.
  8. About 90% of palm oil supply goes into the production of food products. The remaining 10% of palm oil supply goes into a range of other products including cosmetics, cleaning and hygiene products, bio-fuel and stock feed (derivatives from palm kernel). For manufacturers, palm oil is a low-cost ingredient – but what is the real cost? 
  9. Every year, Australians and New Zealanders consume an average of 10kg of palm oil each.

Auckland Zoo believes the only way to save these wildlife species and their forest homes is to choose palm oil-free or Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) as both these options are deforestation-free.    

As an oil, palm oil in itself is not bad. The problem with palm oil is when rainforests are destroyed to grow the oil palm plant to produce it. Unfortunately, while palm oil can be planted on land that is not forested, the vast majority of companies choose to first log virgin rainforest and make additional profit from selling the rainforest timber. Until this practice stops Auckland Zoo is choosing where possible not to consume, use, or sell products containing palm oil.

We've become a member of the Australasian Responsible Palm Oil Network (incorporating ZAA, New Zealand and Australian zoos, the Jane Goodall Institute Australia, and various other NGOs) whose vision is that 100% of products in Australia and New Zealand are deforestation-free.

Download our Resposible Palm Oil Network Joint Position Statement

Auckland zoo works to raise awareness to the public about the palm oil issue. And we work with our suppliers and partners to bring about changes to products too. For example, we’ve been working with a company called 2Care Products Ltd that’s developed a palm oil-free liquid handsoap we’re now using throughout the Zoo.

We’ve also worked with Tip Top, whose ice-cream, which is now all palm oil-free, we sell on-site here at Auckland Zoo.

Back in 2009 we removed Cadbury chocolate from the Zoo when they started putting palm oil in their chocolate, and were interviewed about our stance on palm oil. Cadbury’s use of palm oil caused an outcry with consumers and consequently, they removed palm oil from their dairy milk chocolate.

PKE (Palm Kernel Extract) is a by-product of the industry that is used as a cattle feed. Auckland Zoo only buys organic milk for this reason (the cattle that produced this milk have not been fed PKE because it is not a certified organic product).

We have four animal species represented by our ‘Ask for Choice' campaign that are also in our animal collection at the Zoo: Asian rhino (even though we have African southern white rhinos), Asian elephant, orangutan and Sumatran tiger.

All the living things that depend on the rainforest ecosystem for survival are impacted by the destruction of the rainforest. These include siamang gibbons (we have these at the Zoo too), clouded leopard, softshelled turtle, white-handed gibbon, dark-handed gibbon, tarsier, Malayan tapir, leaf monkeys, slow loris, long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, sun bear, hornbill bird species and pheasants.

Sumatra is classified as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and is home to 59 mammal species, 450 bird species, 98 fish species and over 650 plant species – not to mention the reptiles, invertebrates and micro-organisms present.
There are bound to be many more that we do not yet know about too. These are all under threat.

Auckland Zoo is a wildlife conservation organisation, so we focus on advocating for, and actively working to conserve wildlife and wild places. Our vision is ‘A future where people value wildlife, and species are safe from extinction'.

Habitat destruction through deforestation (in this case to make way for oil palm plantations) is a key conservation issue that concerns us. A number of species we have here at the Zoo are critically endangered in the wild as a direct result of deforestation for palm oil production. This counters our vision!

Our mission is ‘To bring people together to build a future for wildlife’ and this is why we work with people to find solutions and actions to halt deforestation.
Our "Ask for Choice" campaign calling for palm oil to be labelled, as well as our direct support to conservation projects in the field (such as the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme) are directly aligned with our vision and mission.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are a not-for-profit organisation that unite stakeholders from all sectors of the palm oil industry. These are oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO has developed a set of standards that companies and supply chains must meet in order to become Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). These standards cover deforestation, lawfulness, transparency and social impact and when they are properly applied, these criteria can help to minimize the negative impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities in palm oil-producing regions.

The RSPO has more than 3,000 members worldwide who represent all links along the palm oil supply chain. They have committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.

Like many organisations, Auckland Zoo recognises that more improvements to the RSPO system, which is far from perfect, are needed.  Industry laggards still flout certification rules, and criteria need strengthening – and there is pressure being exerted for this to happen. For example, the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) are exposing and putting pressure on these companies to account and change. POIG comprises progressive oil companies and social NGOs including WWF and Greenpeace.

Donate and learn more about what the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund is doing to help orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhino and many other endangered wildlife species being impacted by deforestation.

The staff and keepers at Auckland Zoo are committed to saving endangered species in New Zealand and internationally. But they need your help.   We need to act now. Please donate today.


We all scream for Tip Top Ice Cream!

A trip to the Zoo is even better with an ice cream in your hand! Our friends at Tip Top Ice Cream have been making the most delicious ice cream for 80 years and are proudly palm oil-free!