Palm oil can be found in food and cosmetics everywhere: in fact, half of the world’s population uses palm oil in food. But public awareness about the loss of wildlife through deforestation caused by palm oil crops is growing, and there’s mounting pressure on retailers to reduce sales of palm oil products, or boycott them altogether.

The debate has become especially heated since a Christmas advert by UK-based supermarket chain Iceland – which dramatises the link between palm oil, deforestation and the death of orang-utans – was barred from being broadcast, on the basis it would have breached political advertising laws, because the animation was originally produced by Greenpeace.

In the first four days of its release, the video was viewed 13million times. A petition to overturn the ban has attracted more than 720000 signatures. While Iceland’s campaign has been a great way to bring more attention to food sustainability issues, an outright boycott could lead to more problems for forests and wildlife.

A recent report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, concluded that boycotting palm oil would shift – not counter – losses to rainforests and wildlife caused by agriculture. Put simply, boycotted palm oil would need to be replaced by other types of vegetable oil to meet demand – which could make matters worse.

This is because, compared with other sources – such as rapeseed and soya beans – palm oil crops yield four to 10 times more oil per unit of land, and require less pesticide and fertiliser. Palm oil makes up 35% of all vegetable oils, grown on just 10% of land allocated to oil crops. If other crops such as soya bean replaced a shortfall in palm oil, this would shift more production to the Amazon (a major soya-producing region), and would require more land, leading to more deforestation. Soya bean farming is responsible for more than double the deforestation of palm oil. In context of other food sources, livestock and beef production has led to more than five times the amount, compared with palm oil.

Read more at IOL