WHO's Push to Ban Trans Fats Could Pave Way for Palm Oil
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday announced an initiative to ban artificial trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. This goal is a worthy endeavor, as the intake of trans fats has led to the deaths of 500,000 people from cardiovascular disease per year, according to WHO estimates.
However, if governments adopt this measure, it could inadvertently ramp up the use of an environmentally destructive replacement—unsustainable palm oil.
Artificial trans fats are usually made by "hydrogenating" vegetable oils, which turns them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life. Palm oil has many similar qualities that food manufacturers like, including low costs, shelf-stability and a creamy texture.
Palm oil is now one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils on Earth, and lurks in everyday foods where trans fats used to be.
"Companies often use palm oil as a replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable fats," Laure d'Astorg, secretary general of the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil said, as quoted by Mongabay.
D'Astorg added that it is a "much healthier substitute."
The decreasing use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils has already been linked to a boom in palm oil imports to the U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, in 2012, U.S. imported around seven times as much palm oil as it had in 1999, the year the FDA first proposed mandatory labeling. The U.S. palm oil market is set to increase 20 percent per year, Mongabay reported.
Unfortunately, palm oil is also one of the world's leading drivers of deforestation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Production has destroyed habitats of endangered species, displaced indigenous communities, and caused destruction of peatlands that emit climate-warming carbon dioxide.
The New York Times editorial board on Monday welcomed the WHO's push to eliminate trans fats as a measure that will save countless lives.
However, the board also suggested that regulators reduce the use of palm oil by encouraging the use of saturated fats like butter or with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like olive oil.
"Governments will have to take care in phasing out trans fats, because some alternatives could cause other problems," the board wrote.
We asked major consumer brands like @PepsiCo and @Nestle to confirm they were making good on their commitments to s… https://t.co/a7TRn2Yyo2— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1524856777.0
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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