CSPI vs Palm Oil


The Center for Science in the Public Interest (best known as “those guys that fought to get trans fat listed on nutritional labels”) publish a newsletter called Nutrition Action. It’s a good read with solid scientific information about diet and health, often debunking or questioning claims behind supplements. It’s far from vegan, as they are often recommending dairy and meat, but that sort of makes sense since they’re focused solely on health. They never speak against a vegan diet, but I suppose they know their readership is primarily non-vegetarian.

However, in May 2006 I was very surprised to see a full-page ad for their campaign against palm oil. Palm oil is very prevalent in processed foods and isn’t exactly healthy, so it’s not unusual that they’re speaking out against it, but what surprised me is the angle they’re taking. Their main ad reads “DYING FOR A COOKIE?” and underneath says, “Palm oil production is killing orangutans and other endangered wildlife.” Their full report talks about palm oil’s detrimental effect on health, the environment, and wildlife. This is the first time that I can remember that the CSPI has made note of the animal suffering associated with any food product.

One danger they note is that with the new trans fat designation on nutrition labels, many companies are looking to switch away from partially hydrogenated oils. The danger is that they might move to palm oil.

If companies replaced the 2.5 billion pounds of partially hydrogenated oil used annually in foods needing a solid fat with palm oil, U.S. palm oil imports would triple over the 2003 level. Such an increase would require about 1,240 square miles of new oil palm plantations—an area that represents rainforest habitat for up to 65 Sumatran rhinos, 54 elephant families, 65 Sumatran tigers, and 2,500 orangutans.

Good job, CSPI. Let’s see more of it in the future and it wouldn’t kill you to start mentioning vegetarian diets a bit more, would it?

14 Responses to “CSPI vs Palm Oil”

  1. K

    Go figure on that stuff from those folks. That’s a great find and interesting read, Ryan. Thank you for this post.

  2. Cindy

    Great post. I just read another post that showed that the World Wildlife Fund is working to promote discontinuation of palm oil due to the dangers it poses to endangered species. This may be where the animal rights bit has come from.

  3. Danielle

    I was surprised to see this from CSPI as well. Who’da thunk that they’d care about orangutans.

  4. Tacita

    Can I be totally honest? I am disgusted. My stomach is twiching and turning and I want to get away and land on another planet.
    I went to buy bathroom cleaning gel for my roommate today: she made nothing less than candles in the bathroom and now the place is a mess. I bought what I though to be the least bad, but even on that one, very reduced fosfates and no tensioactives (or the other way around) had not eco stamp on it. None had eco stamp on it.

    Is all this waste of material, all this food, all this pollution REALLY necessary???

  5. Jennifer

    I make an all natural food product using palm oil as a stabilizer. The palm I source comes from Malaysia and is listed by the American Palm Oil Council as farmed under sustainable practices in Malaysia. Indonesian palm oil business do not adhere to those standards. I agree that it is important for companies looking to replace hydrogenated oils to find responsible alternatives.

  6. Loki

    I am from Malaysia and would like to defend my country on that issue. As Jennifer mentioned, it is mainly Indonesia that commits such atrocities. Look at the haze we receive every year caused by Indonesia’s forest ‘clearing’ (burning) antics. And palm oil is healthy, especially compared to hydrogenated oils. Go read up about it: http://www.palmoiltruthfoundation.com

  7. Chicharronita

    Don’t be so quick to laud CSPI; it’s because of them that companies started using trans-fats in the first place. They were FOR using trans-fats until 1992!

    “The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) campaigned against the use of saturated fats for fast food cooking starting in 1984. When fast food companies replaced the saturated fat with partially hydrogenated unsaturated fats, CSPI’s campaign against them ended. While CSPI defended trans fats in their 1987 Nutrition Action newsletter, by 1992 CSPI began to speak against trans fats and is currently strongly against their use.”


    I use Palm oil and coconut oil almost every day. They are extremely healthy oils contrary to what you’ve heard. Spectrum has an organic palm oil that’s sustainably harvested.

  8. Joanne

    Regarding the issue on trans fat, that’s very ironic of them, i think that they need to say sorry to the public about that. I use palm oil and coconut nut everyday as well. It’s healthier than those vegetable oils consumed by most health buffs who end up having lingering illnesses.

  9. Mandy Hargitay

    CSPI? Give me a break! Those are the guys who’d sell their mother if they are paid for it.

    Apart from originally campaigning hard for trans fats, now that trans fats are banned, they’ve to scratch their collective heads to determine how to reign in palm oil for their paymasters.

    Using “science” that’d fail to pass muster for a high school science project, CSPI has consistently fallen short of scientific standards in all their “scientific arguments”!

    To me, palm oil is such a threat to CSPI’s paymaster’s because it’s cheap, widely available and is basically healthy for us and good for the environment. Yeah the Palm Oil Truth site has exploded a lot of the myths that dishonest organizations like CSPI has been trying to sell to us on behalf of the other oils that someone said “costs to much to be free!”. Another useful site is http://www.smartbalance.com.

  10. Steve Howell

    Hargitay is right. CSPI have been exposed as as less than honest dealers by many others, apart from the Palm Oil Truth site.

    Their position against an oil that is basically so healthy, cheap and highly productive such as palm oil is so baffling that there can be only one explanation – CSPI has sold out to the highest bidder to attack palm oil.

    CSPI has earned the singular distinction of entering popular lexicon as an alternate word for “scam” “slimeball” or “con artiste”. As in “You have been CSPIed”!

  11. Manual Del

    Let me chime in here. Apart from the Palm Oil Truth Foundation’s site, even Foxnews.com have wizened up to the real motives of CSPI. I quote:

    “Such a book might describe CSPI’s 30-year history of fomenting bogus food scares including attacks on Chinese, Mexican and Italian foods, movie popcorn, caffeine, the fat-substitute Olestra, meat, fast foods, and snack foods to gain publicity for purposes of fundraising tens of millions of dollars.

    The scam has been very profitable for CSPI, where “non-profit” doesn’t mean that the organization doesn’t make money, only that it doesn’t pay any taxes”

    The scums in CSPI, exposed at last!

  12. Earl Maldonado

    I have been following the issue on the Palm Oil Truth Foundation site and Deforestation Watch.org which has opened my eyes to the evils of the anti-palm oil lobbies and the “environmental organizations” and media willing to do their bidding, for a fee of course!

    Poor palm oil has been targeted all because of its growing global popularity as an edible oil and now as feedstock for the production of biodiesel and biofuel.

    Its high yield, low cost and price competitiveness make it a commodity that cannot be ignored by its competitors!

  13. ryan

    A hint to future posters: try writing a comment without referencing sites run by the CCF. They’re irrelevant in any reasonable discussion.

  14. Frankinlaw

    CSPI? Bah….con artistes…..that’s what the name CSPI evokes!!!

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