Videographic on palm oil. Switzerland votes Sunday on a free trade deal with Indonesia but the agreement, which opens up a vast potential market, could slip up over the issue of palm oil imports. VIDEOGRAPHIC
- Up until about 30 years ago, palm oil was relatively unknown. Its use in everyday products is now widespread, particularly in the food industry. Margarine, chocolate spread, and crisps, for example, can all contain palm oil. It's also used to make cosmetics, detergents, paints, and it can even be used as a biofuel to power diesel engines. Thanks to its low cost, demand has soared over recent years, particularly in emerging countries, such as China and India.
Palm oil originated in West Africa. Its roots are among the richest in vegetable fat, with 100 kilograms producing some 22 kilograms of oil. The plantation of-- massively in Asia from the 1960s. Today, Indonesia and Malaysia account for about 90% of global production. Knock-on environmental effects in the region are dramatic as tropical rainforest is cleared for the cultivation of oil palms, destroying vital habitats for many endangered species. In 50 years, half of Indonesia's forests have been destroyed.
Deforestation is not the only concern linked to palm oil. Nutritionists have also warned of possible health effects, including an increased risk of heart problems.