Global glut of palm oil adds to India’s health woes

Rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases have soared in India and other developing countries in recent years, coinciding with a flood of cheap palm oil that is used in everything from processed snacks and fast food to traditional foods like samosas and poori, according to the latest story from FERN, published with The Nation.

“A combination of shady land deals, abusive labor practices, and government support in major producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia has meant that palm oil isn’t just ubiquitous — it’s cheap,” writes Jocelyn Zuckerman. “India, now the world’s No. 1 importer of the commodity (it went from buying 30,000 metric tons in 1992 to 10.7 million last year), has seen palm oil, at $660 per metric ton, displace more traditionally used oils, including sunflower ($782 per ton), rapeseed ($812), and groundnut ($1,316). This trend has been particularly noticeable in the food industry, which generally buys a refined, bleached, and deodorized version of the strongly flavored oil … At nearly 50 percent saturated fat, palm oil remains semi-solid at room temperature, ideal for food manufacturers looking to enhance the “mouth-feel” and extend the shelf life of their products.”

“People are using and selling a lot of palm oil here,” a newspaper journalist named Adarsh Garg says. “Nobody tells, but they are using.”

It’s little wonder, Zuckerman notes. “In a country where the average citizen earns less than $2,000 per year, it makes sense that people would seek out the least expensive option; when it comes to a product that many households will buy multiple times a week, a 30- or 65-cent price difference can add up fast.”

For more on palm oil, check out these other FERN stories.