MANY folk are surprised that they consume palm oil until they realise that it’s one of the most common foodstuffs sold in our supermarkets. Indeed it occurs in at least 50 per cent of all packaged food items.

While it’s most common in snacks, crisps and biscuits it’s also in chocolate, margarine, custards, cereals, oats, and many non milk liquids, to mention just a few as well as various detergents. Additionally a fifth of it ends up in global bio-diesel with the EU using even more.

While it is probably the best vegetable oil as it contains fewer harmful fats than the others its rampant expansion, often illegally, is the main problem, and it’s becoming worse with constantly increasing production. Indeed five times as much was produced last year as in 1990 and the tonnage is still growing.

Originally from west Africa, it’s now the major cash crop in Indonesian and Malaysia mainly because it produces more than four times as much oil per acre than the alternatives - soya, rapeseed and coconut.

Even so with just four tonnes annually per acre Indonesia has lost a fifth of its forest cover in the last ten years. This is continuing with an area of 300 football pitches being cleared every hour, that’s over 7,000 every day,

It’s not surprising that this rampant abuse of the natural rain forest leads to a drier climate, animal cruelty, particularly the threat to orangutans, the abuse of indigenous groups of local people and more CO2.

A remarkably serious result of this forest clearance is the number of peat fires that continue for decades. The 2015 season was one of the worst with over 100,000 separate fires, many still burning, producing more CO2 than the whole of the European Union, and just marginally behind India, the second largest global producer

Because the use of palm oil is so widespread it’s very difficult to reduce the amount that we consume, though not using bio-diesel would help as would looking for products labelled RSPO – Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.