Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Earth Balance, palm oil, rainforests and RAN

In November of 2006, Eric wrote a post about the Orangutans in Malaysia, and the associated palm oil issues. There are some first hand accounts linked in that post of his, and they’re heart-wrenching.

I realized in horror that my beloved Earth Balance uses palm oil. I wrote them asking about the palm oil that they use, and this was their response:

100% of the palm oil used in Earth Balance originates in peninsular Malaysia and not Eastern Malaysia (i.e. Sarawak and Sabah on the Island of Borneo), the main home for orangutans. As the website points out, slash and burn clearing methods are illegal. We purchase our oil exclusively from reputable, law-abiding plantations which are registered with the Malaysian

Palm oil and soybean oil are the major edible oils in the world, together they account for over 50% of all oil consumed worldwide. The alternative to palm oil in the world markets is hydrogenated soybean oil. If we reduce the world supply of palm, the markets will compensate by growing more soybeans.

Soybean cultivation is wasteful of natural resources. Palm plantations require only a fraction of the acreage to produce the same quantity of oil as soybean farms. An acre of palm trees will produce roughly 8,000-9,000 kgs of oil per year while an acre of soybeans produces roughly 1,000 kgs of oil
per year. Brazil is now the world’s largest and fastest growing producer of soybeans. For every acre of Malaysian palm oil converted back to jungle, several acres of Brazilian or Argentinean forest must be converted to farmland.

It is for these reason that we feel palm oil should be part of an environmentally friendly food supply chain. The following site has more information about the cultivation of palm oil in Malaysia.

This looked like good news. I checked out the website they had linked in, and it looked legit, with what looked to be some pretty solid information. I didn’t look into palm oil further, but there has always been a worry in the back of my mind. What will I find out if I do research it for real?

It has been a year and a half. Today RAN (Rainforest Action Network) posted about rainforests and palm oil. They are in the middle of an action campaign, where people act as supermarket sleuths and register products that use palm oil, and starting on July 1, RAN is going to start contacting these companies and basically demand that these companies give up their palm oil. And soy oil? I would think they would cover that as well.

I registered Earth Balance on RAN’s site. I also commented on RAN’s blog post to see what they could tell me about Earth Balance’s response to my question a year and a half ago. You can read the exchange by following the link above, but part of the response from Brihannala at RAN was this:

If killing orangutans were the only problem that existed with palm oil, then maybe Earth Balance could get off the hook. But it simply is not. Every where that palm is grown– very much including Peninsular Malaysia– involves clear cutting rainforest and planting massive monoculture plantations– with serious consequences for both endangered species (the tapir lives in Peninsular Malaysia.. does it deserve to go extinct?) and the climate. It also involves displacing communities off their traditionally owned land, which regularly occurs in Peninsular Malaysia. Particularly in Peninsular Malaysia, migrant workers from Indonesia and India are forced into modern day slavery, forced to work for minuscule wages while paying back the companies for their their transportation from their country of origin. It’s a wreck.

Well, I can’t argue with that.

I think this is always a danger when we focus too completely on one piece of an issue – the companies can find ways to address the small concern while ignoring the bigger picture. And if we don’t know the bigger picture, we’ll accept their “green animal friendly washing”. (Obviously I made that phrase up just now. And it is cumbersome. Greenwashing is a great and immediately understandable term; do we have one for the animal rights aspect?)

When I emailed Earth Balance, I had talked specifically about the orangutans and the clear cutting and burning. I didn’t even know about the tapir, I didn’t know about the workers, and I really was fairly ignorant about rain forest issues in general.

Every time I turn around, I’m reminded about how intertwined these issues are. Social justice, environmental protection, animal rights. Palm oil is a hat trick of issues, and it is something we all need to pay attention to.

Rainforests are important and delicate places. They are huge carbon sinks, which makes them incredibly important to the entire issue of global climate change. Their carbon is held above ground, however. Something I remember from college ecology classes is that there is virtually nothing contained in the soil of a rainforest, it is closer to a desert in terms of soil ecology than it is to anything else. All of the nutrients and minerals and everything needed for life is held in the plants themselves. Before they drop their leaves, they actually are able to pull the nutrients out of them first, making the reclamation of nutrients immediate, rather than having it be processed through decomposition and uptake through the soil.

This makes rainforests really bad areas to clear to use for farming, obviously. It also makes rainforests really bad areas to clear from a carbon stand point, because it is all held in the living matter. Cut those trees down, and you’re destroying direct carbon sinks.

Not to mention the fact that rainforests remain the most biodiverse areas of the planet. Biodiversity is important for all of us, for all of our survival, though you have to take the long term view of it to understand why it is important.

And you can’t talk about the destruction of the rainforests without talking about giant corporations and how they profit off of the social injustices perpetuated on the local people. Whether it is South America or Asia, the script is the same.

Now that I have more information, I’m sad to say that Earth Balance’s answers are far from satisfactory.

I’m hoping that someone has a vegan palm-oil free and soy-oil free replacement they can recommend. A recipe, a product, something…

Regardless, I’ll be going without Earth Balance from here on out, unless they change their product to eliminate the palm and soy oils. Pleasing my tastebuds with a buttery spread just isn’t worth what it costs the people, the environment, and of course the animals themselves.

earth balance container

4/22/2011 — Update! There is a recipe for a buttery spread that is soy free and palm free, and which Ryan reports to be quite tasty! Check out the recipe and also Ryan’s review of the recipe.

11/11/11 — Update! An even better recipe for a buttery spread:

3/10/12 — Update! A recipe for palm-free shortening!

02/17/12 — Update to add links for RAN’s 3 part series on “What is Sustainable Palm?”

Also, what about Agropalma (in Brazil), right? Here’s an in-depth article: Occupy the Amazon so as Not to Lose it—with Palm Oil

81 responses to “Earth Balance, palm oil, rainforests and RAN

  1. Kelvin Kao June 20, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    If they don’t use palm or soy-based oil, what are they going to use for oil? Corn? I don’t know about this much, but is it possible that palm oil is already the lesser of the evils? If the oil needs to come from some kind of plant, then you bet there’s going to be people planting them somewhere. I wonder what’s the most efficient source…

  2. Deb June 20, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    For all its drawbacks, I think that corn still wins out over palm or soy for the “less evil” title, due to the rainforest destruction that goes along with the soy and palm oils. Planting corn in iowa versus destroying rainforests for palm? I’ll choose corn, personally.

    But you are right, in a bigger sense – I should do away with earth balance in a general sense because it is a luxury item that isn’t sustainable pretty much no matter the source of the oil.

  3. Eric June 20, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for this great follow-up. Unfortunately, so much consumption leads right back to monocultures, whether it’s corn or soy. Obviously destroying virgin forests and so on is *worse*, but this really does bring us back to the environmental demand to consume less, and to try to get what we consume as locally and as unprocessed as possible.

  4. Michelle Desilets June 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Find out more about palm oil and orangutans at or Both sites are operated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, which is the only organisation in the world actively rescuing wild orangutans from the oil-palm plantations which are destroying their rainforest habitat. They need your help.

  5. Deb June 21, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Eric, it is very true, our consumption drive is generally at the root of the problem. I think we often assume that if it is vegan, it has to be okay. I’m just not content myself to leave it at that.

    Michelle, thanks so much for commenting! I’ll definitely spend some time on both sites. It is great to hear that there is a group doing orangutan rescue!

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  7. Joyce Major June 21, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    There is a sustainable plantation in Columbia that the Body Shop switched to. It is a question of sustainable agriculture. Even Malaysia which says it is sustainable comes over to Indonesia to take down trees for more plantations. Does anyone know the names of the oil palm plantation companies in Indonesia? These are the people we need to get cooperation from for sustainability, human rights. Most are foreign but I cannot find their names. Help would be good. There are many organizations working to protect the orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo. Right now Sumatra needs urgent help as the numbers of the critically endangered orangs, tigers, elephants and rhinos are desperately low.

  8. Richard Zimmerman June 21, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Palm oil is a silent killer. In the US, most people have no idea what it is– even though it’s prevalent in thousands of products from shampoo and soap to chips and cookies. The encroachment of palm oil plantations into the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra is decimating orangutan populations. Learn more about this tragic situation and see how you can help at the Orangutan Outreach website:

    Orangutan Outreach is a sister organization to BOS UK.

  9. Deb June 22, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Joyce, do you have more info on the sustainable plantation that Body Shop used? Is there any oversight? Thanks for commenting! I don’t know the names of any of the companies in Indonesia.

    Richard, thanks for commenting. I hadn’t realized until RAN how pervasive an ingredient palm oil was. They’ve got over 400 products registered now, stuff from supermarkets (but not just food) that people found palm oil in the ingredient list. Thanks for letting us know about the Orangutan Outreach website.

  10. Sumayyah June 22, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I had no idea. As a new vegetarian, hoping to go vegan, I’m always on the lookout for items/foods to accommodate my lifestyle. I guess i will not by Earth Balance anytime soon. Thank you for spotlighting the palm oil problem.

  11. Deb June 22, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Sumayyah, thanks for the comment! I often have mixed feelings about the various products that mimic what we were used to before going vegetarian and vegan, and I guess this highlights one of the issues. It seems better, in the end, to stick with what is unprocessed, and what is from our garden as much as possible. This ends up being easier (less labels to read when you’re buying the grains and vegetables in their unprocessed state!) and healthier, as well as better for the environment (at the very least you are using less packing material), and gives you the option of finding local small farms to support. It is overall a positive thing to get past the packaged food!

    However I poked around on spectrum’s website, and they have a couple spreads listed that look like they are vegan, and one of them doesn’t use soy oil or palm oil. At the same time, they have information on sustainable palm oil from columbia (sounds like what joyce was talking about), which is promising…but at this point I’m wary of trusting their word (all businesses want to sell product, in the end). I’d need more information before I was comfortable with the “sustainable” label, despite that the initial look seems quite positive from all standpoints (workers, environment, animals).

    So this might be worth checking out or keeping in mind:

    Just in case the addiction to buttery spreads is more than can be overcome!

  12. mary martin June 22, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    This is very disconcerting considering one of my most-used strategies for vegan education is how easy it is to replace butter in cooking, baking, and even on a slice of Ezekiel toast. And in my experience, Earth Balance is the only product that does the job (I’ve tried many).

  13. Deb June 22, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    mary, I have been thinking the same thing. I really hope they are able to change their recipe. Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t setting the bar too high, making veganism seem unattainable. I really don’t know what to say to that question, though, because once I know about the reality, like with the palm oil, I just can’t ignore that. It is like with chocolate…

    And then I start to think about how so much of the abuse happens within the luxury market trade. Coffee, chocolate, earth balance. Where is that balance between not making veganism seem like deprivation, and being realistic about our consumption habits (thinking specifically of luxury items)?

    Not that there aren’t big issues with just plain vegetables like tomatoes, with the workers. At least on that particular issue, we usually have the choice of farmers markets and CSAs.

  14. Joyce June 23, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Joyce here. Daabon in Columbia is certified sustainable. The issue with palm oil is complicated.But as I volunteer with the Sumatran Orangutan Society in Indonesia, what I see is the economics of oil palm agriculture vs the rainforest, orangutans, tigers and our air. There are local people making aliving at plantations and sad abuses to humans, some shocking abuees to the orangs. If these plantations rotated growth cycles to plant sustainably rather than cutting the forest for new land continually, oil palm would not be a
    horrible oil as it is now. In the last 20 years, 80% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed. Go to and download “the Last Stand of the Orangutan” to get a clear picture of what is going on. Perhaps you can help by appealing to co. that use palm oil, stores that sell it. We have to have consumer awareness and voiced opinions or the money does the only talking and the rainforest comes down.

  15. Deb June 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Joyce, thanks for coming back and letting me know! Spectrum also uses Daabon, so I’ll have to look into it further.

    We can definitely write to companies that are using palm oil. That’s at the heart of RAN’s palm oil campaign right now, and it is definitely a good strategy, plus backing it up with a boycott.

  16. Ron Kearns June 25, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Palm oil use is an example of an inescapable conundrum of life: ‘Every aspect of life that is “good” carries an associated complement of “bad” that is most often greater than any anticipated benefit or perceived good.’ Ron Kearns

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  18. Mary Martin June 26, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I just bought Spectrum and sauteed some veggies, made some toast, fried some grilled sheese, baked a Yukon Gold and made some cookie dough. We had 5 power outages (South Florida summer storms), so the cookies cannot be fairly judged and the dough is a mess.

    It’s not a perfect butter substitute, like EB. It’s more like margarine, but sort of gelatinous and slimy and vaguely sour tasting. But I think it does the job just fine.

    I’ll make new cookie dough and report back tomorrow.

  19. Deb June 26, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Mary, thanks so much for checking it out and updating us with your findings! I looked at my little store today and didn’t see any spectrum butter subs there, so for now I’m going to see how it goes to just do without. I have always used oil in the cookies instead of butter, now that I think of it! Frostings will be a challenge, but it isn’t like those are a necessity!

  20. Mary Martin June 27, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    All went well with the cookies. There’s definitely a difference in taste, but they’re delectable nonetheless. I think you’re right about the frosting. I can’t imagine the coconut frosting for the ginger macadamia carrot coconut cake with spectrum. I’ll try that tomorrow. Thanks for the Daabon update.

  21. Jackie O June 28, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I’ll admit immediately that I haven’t read the rest of the responses to this post, so my comments here may be redundant.

    Earth Balance’s response should be satisfactory, but it takes a bit of reading between the lines. In RAN’s response to palm oil in Earth Balance, they pointed out that clear-cutting, monoculture, other endangered species, and displacement were all problems, in addition to the orangutans.

    However, as the people at Earth Balance pointed out, the alternative to palm oil is soybean oil, and soy requires much more land to grow. In fact, wherever plants are being grown for oil, whatever the plant, it will be grown in monoculture, require that land be cleared, and displace animals and people. This is what has been happening in South America with soy. I’m sure you’ve all also heard about the problems with growing corn and canola. In order to be competitive with other producers, things are currently being grown in harmful ways.

    My point is just that Earth Balance doesn’t appear to be greenwashing. Their reasons include both the orangutans and the fact that other comparable oils are worse in all the ways that RAN is concerned with. It sounds to me like Earth Balance has thought about this considerably more than other companies. Punishing them by boycotting their products and then turning to other products (which may have identical consequences, though outside Malaysia) doesn’t seem like the way to achieve better, more sustainability-oriented business practices.

  22. Jackie O June 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I know, double post. Sorry.

    The problem with growing corn in Iowa is that corn is produced all over the world. Corn produced in the States with the subsidies it receives drives down the market price of corn globally. Smaller farmers in African countries, for example, are forced out of business by American companies producing greater and greater yields annually–they can’t produce enough corn to make themselves profitable when the market price of sinks below a certain point. Furthermore, corn produced in the States has it’s own ecological costs. It doesn’t seem to me like growing corn is an obviously better option for people or the planet.

  23. Deb June 28, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Jackie, I don’t think that it takes any reading between the lines to see the points that you and Earth Balance are making. It is a classic, “oh, you can ignore all the negatives (the social devestation, environmental destruction, and destruction of habitat for threatened species) of the palm oil we use – just look at how much worse this other thing is!”

    That’s not good enough for me. Obviously I can avoid both, and I am. Maybe my standards higher than most peoples, but I CAN NOT be happy with Earth Balance’s response to the issue of Palm Oil when I know that it is enslaving people, killing tamirs (just for one species), and destroying rainforests, which are vital to the earth’s ecosystem for many many reasons.

    If you can disregard that, just because Earth Balance tells you that soy oil is worse (and even though Earth balance uses soy oil as well), then that is your decision. It isn’t mine.

    And yes, I’ll look closely at any replacement as well. I’m researching Daabon to see whether they can convince me that palm oil can be sustainable. Boycotting a product that doesn’t make the effort to ensure their products are sustainable is exactly the way to convince them that I’m serious about wanting ethical products.

    I don’t take this issue lightly, and I am not going to ignorantly jump to any old product instead. If I can’t find something that fits my ethics, I do without. It is people’s lives at stake. I’m not selfish enough to insist on a buttery spread despite everything I know is wrong with it.

  24. Debra June 29, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Great post, and for anyone in the Chicago area interested in getting involved, we are starting a grassroots campaign and palm oil boycott to save the remaining habitat of the highly endangered orangutan. By some estimates the orangutan only has a few years left in the wild, if drastic intervention isn’t taken.

    Please email me at We’re showing a couple short films at our first meeting in early July in the Andersonville neighborhood. Hope some of you can join the campaign!

  25. Deb June 29, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for posting Debra! The grassroots campaign sounds great. I’m not near Chicago, but hopefully people who are will see this and contact you!

  26. Jackie O June 30, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Deb, my post was largely a response to other comments about Spectrum and yours about choosing corn. The point I was trying to make is that, IF our main concerns with palm oil are displacement of humans and animals, clear-cutting, and monoculture, then those same concerns apply to any other oil we consume, as well as all soy products and many grains. Earth Balance is neither unique, nor the worst–nor even the most frequently consumed–but it is presented as a special danger in this post, which I feel is misleading.

    You’ve singled out a product to lambast that’s offered by a company that’s actually making an effort, and the reasons you’re criticizing it apply to most other things we eat. By focusing our attention on this one product, you give the impression that the problems it faces don’t also apply to almost every other thing we eat. That simply isn’t the case.
    After all, many of the products we consume are luxury items in the same way Earth Balance is: they are nutritionally unnecessary and imported or sold simply to suit our tastes.

    I’m not attacking you–this is an informative post and I appreciate the effort you’ve put into researching it. I just think that your conclusion is overly simplistic and ultimately harms the companies most likely to provide ethical products for us in the future.

    As a side note for those looking at alternatives, I believe Spectrum margarines contain D3, which isn’t vegan. It’s made from sheepies.

  27. Deb June 30, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Jackie, I’m sorry, but your arguments fall short. We know for a fact that corn and soy both are grown in places where the rainforest is not clear cut for their production. I’m not saying all of it does, or that there aren’t problems with at least some of it. We don’t know that at all about palm. By purchasing palm oil products, we are essentially agreeing to the destruction of the rainforest, the people, and the animals who require the rainforest for their lives. This does not mean I’ll be incautious about the other oils, they are however not equivalent as you seem to be saying. And IF they are, then ALL of those oils will be banished from my life. Period.

    It might appear to you that I’ve singled out just one product, however I am singling out the only product I’ve found in my household so far that uses palm oil. If I had more, I’d obviously be ditching them as well. If you got the impression that I would be satisfied with a palm product from a different company, you’re mistaken. Possible exception of Daabon sourced stuff – I’m researching them still.

    I’m not sure why you are so pro Earth Balance and so anti-Spectrum but according to Spectrum’s website and the packaging on their products, their spreads do not have D3, or any D vitamin. Or A, in case you now want to accuse them of animal sourced A vitamins. but don’t take my word for it. You can check it out for yourself. Spectrum is also exploring a relationship with Daabon. They are attempting to find small farm community oriented sources of their products, and while I am always skeptical in this global market, I nevertheless applaud that focus.

    See, you seemed to have missed that whole thing about Daabon. If Daabon is as good as they sound, and actually able to sell non-exploitative sustainable palm oil, and Earth Balance isn’t making an effort to use that palm oil, if Earth Balance insists that they can trust the Malaysian government with absolutely no oversight and apparently no thought to what a gap there is between “legal” and “ethical”, I don’t get why you continue to insist that Earth Balance is just fine and dandy.

    You see, I can not and will not purchase a product that I know is causing clear cutting of the rain forest, killing the oranguntans and the tamir, and displacing people from their land, enslaving them. I KNOW that Earth Balance’s products are doing that, I don’t know that any other product I have is doing that.

    You want to call that unfair, you are free to do so, but your argument simply doesn’t work for me. Talk about simplistic! I don’t see Earth Balance as acting ethically when they are using palm oil, despite the problems they well know!

    I eat very little packaged food. Earth Balance is off my list, as is anything else at present containing Palm or Soy oil. I’ll source my cooking oils from Spectrum for the present, since they at least try to adhere to some of the ethics that I find important, if their company propaganda can be believed.

  28. Joyce July 2, 2008 at 3:45 am

    Joyce, here. The key to growing palm oil is sustainability. It takes 6 years for a tree to produce oil palm berries and it goes for 25 yr. Wihting those paramenters, sustainable agriculture could be accomplished but there is more immediate money in timber. There is an enormous amount of rainforest on Borneo that has been cut under the guise of oil palm plantations but was just an scheme to make money off the rainforest. It remains barren, no longer available for wildlife either. Thank you all for putting pressure on all suppliers to insist on sustainability. Currently there are no certification systems for sustainable oil plam planatations in Malayasia or Indonesia. Malaysia sneaks over the border to rip out trees in Kalimantan so that they can say they are sustainable. yea, right!
    Movie choice….Losing Tomorrow is excellent.

  29. Deb July 2, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Joyce, thanks for that info! It definitely helps me start to understand more about palm and how it could be made sustainable. And thanks for the movie choice! I’ll put it on my list.

  30. kim July 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    FYI – if you eat out or buy prepared vegan bakery items, they most likely use Earth Balance. Avoiding it at home may not be the only concern. Not to mention palm oil used in restaurant foods in general.

  31. Deb July 4, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    That’s true, and is likely almost guaranteed for anything that has frosting. Other things might have a chance of not using EB, which after all is not cheap. I’m not sure that palm oil is common in general restaurant foods though. It is not a common cooking oil, for instance. Can’t hurt to ask, of course.

    There are other issues with eating out, of course, and good reasons to limit it for sustainability/environmental/health reasons, if nothing else!

    Like so many things, eating out is better viewed and treated as a luxury.

    Besides, I like cooking and baking. 🙂

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  33. kim July 9, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    I read the ingredients on Fleischman’s Unsalted Margarine, which can be found at mainstream grocers, and it still appears to be vegan. Does anyone know for sure? (The salted version has dairy clearly listed.)

    As far as palm oil, I think the approach is 2-pronged:

    1) Put pressure on food manufacturers to switch to a different ingredient


    2) Campaign against palm oil production in general.

    And as far as restaurant items with palm oil, I was thinking of processed foods they might incorporate into dishes – and things like potato chips, tortilla chips, breads, fries, etc. that they might serve.

  34. Deb July 11, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Kim, from the ingredient list I read, the Fleishmann’s Unsalted Margarine has D3, which is always animal derived, I believe. (fish liver oil, I think) It also has Vitamin A Palmitate, which can be either animal or plant based, and something I’d check on. Though in this case, with the D3 there, not sure if it matters anyway, since the D3 isn’t vegan.

    It’s been a while since I bought potato chips or tortilla chips, but I can’t remember them ever having palm oil in them. Same with bread. Fries, well, you never know what they’re fried in, so I’d have to have an awful lot of trust in the restaurant before I’d eat their fries!

    I could be wrong about the restaurant food and how much palm oil might be used in the cooking of it, it just seems unlikely to me. If anyone has any verified information, please post it!

  35. Tofu Mom July 11, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Wow. Though I try to be as aware and as concious of issues as possible, this is one that slipped by.

    And giving up Earth Balance is an easy one. I need less of it in my diet anyway. May not hurt the company much but I always believe every little bit helps…

  36. Deb July 13, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Tofu Mom, it is sometimes hard to keep up with everything! Palm oil just didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar until recently.

    But I agree – giving up EB is easy. I haven’t had any in about a month, and it has been a complete non-issue. And, as you said, less of it in my diet is a good thing!

  37. johanna July 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Hey Deb & everyone else, what do you know about the ethics of coconut oil? Lagusta (who makes AWESOME truffles) commented on the Vegans of Color post I wrote (that links back here 🙂 ) about using coconut oil. Sounds promising, although I know next to nothing about any ethical issues w/it, if any.

  38. Mary Martin July 14, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Uh-oh. If coconut oil is a problem I’ve got (more) issues.

  39. Deb July 14, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Johanna, I’ve done some research, and it is hard to say, really. Based on what I’ve found so far, I believe that coconut is a pretty good alternative, if one is careful in sourcing it.

    There are programs on a village and low-tech level that look like they purely benefit the local people, the women in particular:

    It isn’t specified whether there’s any coconut cultivation necessary though.

    Coconut oil has allowed Bouganville to survive despite a 7+ year blockade against them in a little known and very bloody war in the pacific:

    But that doesn’t say much about our consumption of it!

    Based on this article, it is clear that large scale production of coconut oil can have many of the same negative aspects as of the palm oil:

    The production of coconuts on a commercial scale will help alleviate the critical shortage of edible oils. Coconut oil is the staple of the rural population but because of lethal yellowing, the government has had to import large quantities of edible oils using scarce exchange reserves.

    The processing of both bananas and coconuts will produce substantial volumes of effluent. The bananas that cannot be exported or sold in local markets will be fed to pigs whose effluent waste will be dumped unprocessed into the nearby river. Coconut oil extraction will produce by-products that have no current use and will be dumped into the environment.

    The environment will be altered radically by the installation of a tropical fruit production industry. The vegetation will be clear cut not only between the plots in the formerly cropped valley, but also on the hills and mountainsides. The flora will be destroyed and the fauna will retreat into the already ecologically severely affected mountainsides’ many of which have been cleared as coffee production has moved to cover the higher elevations.

    There is some fair trade coconut oil available, though again the information on the environmental aspect is fairly scarce. I found a company that has developed affordable technology for villagers to extract coconut oil:

    They bring up some points about coconut oil that do make it seem like purchasing coconut oil from these types of groups is getting coconut oil from existing trees, resources that are already there and available for the local people, rather than clearing areas to plant the trees for big commercial enterprises.

    So…my conclusion is that coconut oil is likely a good choice with sustainable environmentally and socially friendly options available. But, as with anything, not all coconut oil comes from responsible or ethical companies or people.

  40. johanna August 5, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Hey Deb, sorry I forgot to check back for a reply on this one! Thank you for the information — that is good to know.

  41. Deb August 5, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    No problem! Hope it helps!

  42. Anne January 13, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I wrote to Smart Balance about this issue, and this is what they had to say:
    “Our palm fruit oil comes from peninsular Malaysia and not Eastern Malaysia (i.e. Sarawak and Sabah on the Island of Borneo). There are no orangutans in the wild on peninsular Malaysia.
    We DO NOT source palm fruit oil from Indonesia (Sumatra), the other primary home of orangutans and Sumatran Tigers. Indonesia has been the focal point for most of the concerns regarding sustainable palm oil production.
    Joan Dippolito
    Consumer Relations”

  43. Deb January 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Yup, that’s what they told me a couple years ago too. And it sure sounds good, but as the person from RAN pointed out, if orangutans were the only issue with Palm Oil, EB would be in the clear. But it’s not, they’re not.

    Tapirs (endangered!) are losing their habitat because of the clear cutting that goes into palm production, and people are forced off their land, forced into what are essentially slave labor situations. And that is on peninsular malaysia. Exactly where EB is sourcing their palm oil.

  44. Deb June 29, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks Shannon! Your blog looks great too!

  45. Jessica July 17, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    In Australia the most popular vegan spread is probably Nuttelex. It does not contain any palm oil, and is also free of lactose, gluten, nuts and soy. I’m not sure about it being organic but it is friendly and tasty…

  46. Deb July 22, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Jessica, it does look good! I wonder about the “vegetable oils” though, and whether part of it is or could sometimes be palm? I didn’t look too extensively at the site, so maybe it says “no palm oil” somewhere on there, or you might know from your own research. I will someday be in Australia, so hopefully I can give it a try then!

    Thanks for telling me about it!

  47. Chelle August 27, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Actually unless nuttelex have recently changed their recipe, they do use palm oil. It is a small amount but it’s still there.

  48. Deb August 28, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Chelle, thanks for that info. Is it on their labels, or did you see it on their site? I’ve never seen Nuttelex in person, so I have no way of knowing!

  49. Pat Cuviello November 9, 2009 at 2:15 pm


  50. Chelle November 9, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    As with most grocery items, palm oil does not show up on the label. In food, it is most notably “vegetable oil”. Nuttelex have confirmed that they use palm oil. Their justification is that it is “only 1%”.

    As for Daabon, they are not nearly as fantstic as they make themselves out to be considering there is a lawsuit currently pending from the peasant farmers they kicked off land with riot police.

    Also, the certification process for sustainable palm is problematic. Only very recently it was decided that green house gas emission would not factor into it.

  51. Deb November 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Chelle, thanks for that information. It’s what I thought might be the case.

    I hadn’t heard that about Daabon, but it doesn’t surprise me. I never trust these corporations. I read on RAN’s blog fairly recently about how the roundtable for sustainable palm was basically gutted, and that some of the corporations that are in positions of power in the roundtable are in violation of what rules have been set up, and of course nothing is being done. All in all, it is pretty bad.

    This is why I just can’t trust any of them. A friend recently sent me a more detailed letter from Earth Balance, and on the surface it looks better. I haven’t looked at it in detail, but basically they’re saying “just trust us, the palm we get is free of environmental, social, and political implications.”

    And I get stuck on the fact that we’re supposed to trust them!

  52. C November 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    It’s my understanding the EB sources it’s organic palm oil from Brazilian AgraPalma. Have you found anything out them in your research?

  53. Deb November 21, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    I can confirm that EB sources it’s organic palm from AgraPalma, but I haven’t had a chance to research AgraPalma yet.

    Here’s an article written by someone who knows more than I ever will about palm and it’s associated issues, and who spent 24 hours at AgraPalma on tours, etc.

    You’ll see that while there are some positives, there are a lot of questionable issues as well.

    What I always return to is that EB is a luxury item, pure and simple. Palm oil, even on the small portion of the AgraPalma plantation that is organic has many environmental issues.

    It’s a vast monoculture plantation, growing in soil that is absolutely not suited to grow palm. Many people don’t understand this about rain forests: the soil sucks. The rain forests hold the majority of the nutrients in the canopy, and the plants have evolved to pull their precious resources from the leaves before they fall, so unlike the forests we’re used to elsewhere, with the soil constantly being enriched by the leaf matter, this doesn’t happen in the rain forest. Rain forest soil is about as hospitable as a desert.

    The historical issues are disturbing. AgraPalma continued to clear cut rainforest until 2002. That was about 20 years of clear cutting, forcing people off their land, destroying rain forest, etc. EB claims that AgraPalma is wonderful from social and environmental standpoints, and maybe they are if you have an extremely limited narrow focused view.

    But no matter what, palm oil is a luxury. Knowing that it’s far from ideal, even on the “better” plantations, do we keep consuming our luxury food items that come at such cost?

    To be honest, I have not been convinced that sustainable palm oil is possible. Not for the kind of consumption that EB requires.

  54. C November 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Thank you for this.

  55. Pingback: Palm Oil: Earth (in) Balance | Veganacious

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  57. Michelle Desilets January 9, 2010 at 5:18 am

    AgroPalma is now amongst the most ethical and sustainable palm oil producers out there.

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  60. Kim June 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I’ve posted a copy of the letter that I received from Earth Balance as well. I too, think it’s time to permanently say good-bye to Earth Balance. Spectrum Spreads has a good vegan margarine that is not hydrogenated, but it is very soft and not appropriate for baking. Anyone know anything that is vegan and appropriate for baking? My other concern from the email, is that “most” of the palm oil is sourced from Malaysia, so where is ther remainder of the palm oil coming from ?

    I also checked out the post on AgroPalma and it confirms the problem with organic palm oil. If a large profit is to be made, the product will most likely not be made sustainably.

    Does anyone know much about the health aspect of palm oil? I’ve heard that it’s not as healthy as the hype portrays it to be.

    Thank you for your interest in our Earth Balance products.

    Our oil comes from the palm fruit, and it’s sourced primarily from Malaysia. The palm fruit oil we obtain only comes from existing palm plantations and not new jungle-clearing projects. We purchase our oil from reputable, law-abiding plantations that are registered with their respective national governments.

    Our palm fruit oil comes from peninsular Malaysia and not Eastern Malaysia (i.e. Sarawak and Sabah on the Island of Borneo). There are no orangutans in the wild on peninsular Malaysia. We DO NOT source palm fruit oil from Indonesia (Sumatra), the other primary home of orangutans. Indonesia has been the focal point for most of the concerns regarding sustainable palm oil production.

    Palm fruit oil is a key ingredient in the natural oil blend that is used in our spreads. Palm oil provides the solids needed in our balanced fat blend to make a buttery spread and is what helps to make Smart Balance a heart-healthier product that is naturally trans-fat free. Many people have suggested using soy oil instead of palm oil but we would have to use a synthetic manufacturing process such as hydrogenating the vegetable oils which creates trans fats. In addition, it would not be a balanced fat product.

    You can find out more information about the palm oil cultivation through The Malaysian Palm Oil Council web site

    If I can be of any other service, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit us online at

    • Deb June 9, 2010 at 10:39 am

      Sounds like their canned email hasn’t changed. I haven’t looked into the health aspects at all.

      As for baking, I mostly rely on recipes from people like Dreena Burton (almost no eb in her recipes). Based on her recipes, it seems clear to me that mostly we don’t need eb and I am sure most eb-containing recipes can be altered. If I knew more about food science I would be more help in that regard! There are even eb-free frosting recipes out there.

      As far as I know, no one has found a good substitute for eb. I have done without for a couple years now, and other than avoiding some recipes here and there I haven’t felt the lack.

      • London Mabel December 6, 2010 at 4:54 am

        I too turn to Dreena Burton for less processed ingredients. Jae Steele’s cookbooks don’t use margarines either. And I bought Ani Phyo’s raw dessert book for the same reason (to have some non-processed-sugar alternatives.)

  61. Chelle June 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Palm oil is a saturated fat. The National Heart Foundation of Australia has recommended avoiding palm oil as it is high in saturated fat which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Swapping a trans fat for a saturated fat is just swapping one bad fat for another. Using a mono or poly fat is far better, but they don’t seem to want to do that.

  62. Kim July 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Good News — I used Spectrum Spreads margarine to bake vegan chocolate chip cookies and they turned out great!

  63. Christine Marsh January 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Dynamic Deb,

    I am appreciative to find out this information. I have used Earth Balance for years, and now will never use it again. I love the rainforest and am a big supporter of it. I learn everything I can to utilize the best products that support it. I had no idea about Earth Balance.

    I was not eating it very much anymore anyway. I had mostly switched to coconut oil. It is amazing on toast – better than EB.
    Thank You for posting this!

    May you experience many miracles today!
    Christine Marsh

  64. matt peake February 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    @ joyce major
    body shop is owned by loreal who vivisects and viciously and cruelly tortures and kills rabbits cats dogs mice rats

  65. Truly Scrumptious March 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I thought I’d update this thread a little. Earth Balance now has a pdf on their site (I can’t capture the link! When I try to right-click it keeps opening up the pdf!), which I’ll paste here (the relevant parts. I left off the preamble). It addresses palm fruit oil more completely. It also has some promise for improvements:

    “…. As a very small player in the global vegetable oil commodity business, Earth Balance has limited options in pursuing the greenest path in regards to palm fruit oil. Supply moves in very large quantities, and we purchase a miniscule amount of what is imported in the US. While admittedly we have not yet solved the environmental and social challenges associated with the purchase and production of palm fruit oil, we are taking the following steps in the pursuit of seeking to ‘do no harm’ in regards to this topic.
    1) 30% of our Palm Fruit Oil purchase is certified organic and sustainably grown in Brazil (as opposed to SE Asia where the environmental and social issues have drawn grave and justified concerns globally). Our supplier Agropalma ( has an amazing track record in environmental and social stewardship, and for this they have been recognized since 2003 when they were granted certificates ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 related to Quality, Environmental Management and Safety and Occupational Health, respectively. For Natural Buttery Spread consumers concerned about the consequences of palm fruit oil production, we believe our Earth Balance® Organic 13 oz. tub sold in U.S. and Canada is the most responsible spread available. Further, we continue to grow this one SKU as a larger percentage of our company sales.
    2) The remaining 70% of the palm fruit oil that we purchase is sourced not from Indonesia, nor from Borneo, but from peninsular Malaysia. All of our suppliers of conventional palm fruit oil are members of RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which is the leading global organization developing and implementing global standards for sustainable palm oil production. More info on RSPO is available at Additionally, all of the palm sourced from these suppliers comes only from existing palm plantations, not new jungle-clearing projects. We insist on continuing assurances from our suppliers that all palm fruit oil purchased for Earth Balance complies with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil policies and we would not hesitate to terminate suppliers that violate such policies.
    3) Starting in 2011, Earth Balance will purchase Green Palm Certificates to fund the growth and expansion of sustainable palm. These certificates work like green energy credits and the money paid for the certificate goes directly to improving the infrastructure surrounding best production practices for sustainable palm. We believe that the current global focus on making palm oil sustainable, through programs like Green Palm, will inevitably create a supply chain that is exclusively sustainable, and hopefully within the next 5 or so years.
    4) Earth Balance has the intention of creating additional partnerships with NGO groups in SE Asia who are working on reforestation, but we are still in the formative stage of this discussion. Our first step towards such partnership was taken in Dec 2010, when we sent one of our representatives to Malaysia to better understand how best to partner towards a responsible solution. ”

    If you go to their site, wait for the Flash on the bottom right that says “Addressing the Social and Environmental Impact of Palm Oil.” Then you can click on that for the pdf to open up. And if you know how to then grab the link location, let me know!

    • Deb March 23, 2011 at 10:43 am

      The main progress seems to be that they finally admit there are grave issues with regard to palm! That’s a step…

      Regarding agropalma…ran had a big post on them maybe a year ago. I think it is linked in the earlier comments on this post somewhere. To praise them unconditionally as eb iis makes me uncomfortable. It is itself a giant monoculture plantation, on land that was essentially stolen from the people they now say they treat well as employees. Do we condemn forever the acts of a few years ago? I don’t know, but some acknowledgement from eb that this touted track record is only positive if you don’t look back very far?

      I am not sure why EB likes to pretend that there are no animals in danger on penninsular malaysia and no social issues either…the rspo has very little regard among environmentalists. It is run by the palm oil companies, and being a member means nothing. Following the policies means a little more, but eb has a history of believing anything they are told regarding the palm they want to purchase…they even believe the corrupt governments with histories of attacking their own people!

      When a company is that naive (or willfully ignorant) I don’t trust them to be truly critical when it comes to their suppliers.

  66. Leah March 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm


    I am saddened to find that so many vegan food (and personal care) products use palm oil. Thanks for 1) writing this post and 2) continuing to update the comments section with updates. At a local film festival I watched “Green,” which is a short documentary following the last days of an orangutan who was orphaned by the destruction of her rainforest for palm oil production. You can download and watch the film for free here: Although there is very little dialogue in the film, it’s very clear by the end that giving up palm oil & other products associated with palm production is the right thing to do.

    • Deb March 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks Leah, and I agree. There is so much information out there these days, it is frustrating that more companies, especially for vegan products, aren’t making more of an effort. The good news is that more and more people are taking this seriously.

      I wrote a post on a group blog ( on this topic about a year ago and there was some good info in some of the commens about personal products that are palm-free. It’s not a complete list, of course. I will try to remember to link it in when I get home, or you can search “why would a vegan boycott earth balance?”

      For baked goods, a friend of mine runs a bakery, gonepie, which is palm free (and delicious!), and Bluestocking Bonbons are not only the best chocolates I have ever tasted, they are the most ethical and most environmentally friendly, including being palm free.

      So, things are getting better!

      Thanks for mentioning and linking that film. I had not heard of it before, but it is clearly a powerful film. I will have to watch it soon!

  67. Pingback: This Week’s Good and Bad: April 22, 2011 | The Veg Blog

  68. Chris Dazed (@cheshirecatgirl) November 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I’ve spent all morning reading thru all these comments trying to figure out what to do. The last post was in april, what is the bottom line on all this? Thanks

    • Deb November 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      The bottomline is that there is no known non-harmful source of palm oil. (There was a recent article about negative implicaions for health also.)

      My choice has been to avoid palm oil (and that includes earth balance). There is a recipe (link added to the original post) for “butter” you can make at home – by all reports it is both delicious and easy, but does not work for frosting.

  69. Ess Jay December 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I, too, am very frustrated with Earth Balance’s avoidance of the issues re: palm oil and its derivatives and its cultivation on rainforest destruction. When I contacted them last year about their use of palm oil in their products, I was also told their product came from sustainable plantations with RSPO certification, but as mentioned above, RSPO is not yet a reliable organization for assuring sustainable palm oil. If EB was so sure their products were from sustainable sources, then they should be loudly announcing this was so…they are not!

    Go into any organic/earth-friendly market and you will be very dismayed (as I was) at how many “good” products contain palm oil. Insist that your favorite market hold their product manufacturers accountable for palm oil sources! That’s the only way we can be sure this industry is held accountable.

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  71. Bryanna Clark Grogan July 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for all of this important information and the updates. For anyone who does not want to use a coconut-oil based vegan butter alternative, I developed one last year– very easy to make, can be organic and fair trade, tastes delicious, works well in baking, etc. published the recipe and it is free of charge. The recipe link and info about ingredients, etc. is here :

  72. Bindu January 19, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Thank you for this very informative post and comments section. I use very little of EB, so I’m aware my boycott will not result in much, but nevertheless, I will not buy them anymore. Thanks for researching this so thoroughly and would love to know if you have any more updates about ArgoPalm and others, so as to stay on top of it when talking about this with others.

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