I personally was pretty shocked at what I read when a friend of the family sent along this article published in the globe and mail on February 20th asking “Is your butter not as soft as it used to be?”. So much so that I felt compelled to share it with all of you, our OFICanada supporters, and anyone who may care for the future of orangutans.
If you haven’t seen it yet, this is the story of Canada’s “Buttergate” and how it is connected with orangutans.
Apparently, Canadians have over the latter half of 2020 noticed that their butter is not as spreadable as it used to be, even when left out on the table at room temperature, and have been wondering aloud about it on social media. As a personal non-user of Twitter, I was completely unaware of this trending question, but as soon as I read the first part of the Globe and Mail article, I thought to myself, “yeah actually, I was wondering what was up with the butter”.
To my horror, as it turns out, what’s up with butter is palm oil! This is upsetting to me personally primarily because I have been privately justifying my personal consumption of butter for the past few years as part of my desire to avoid palm oil. Many butter alternatives like margarine are touted as the healthier “vegan” alternative, however, most contain or are entirely made from palm oil or palm oil derivatives. As most palm oil is grown on land that once contained primary tropical rain forests, I have often thought the “vegan” claim to be ironic. Uncountable orangutans and other animals are victims of the deforestation caused by the palm oil industry every day. So, to me, good old cow’s milk butter seemed to be the lesser of two evils.
Now though, this may not be the case. As it turns out not even butter is safe from the grasp of the palm oil industry. As an expert commented in reply to people’s Tweets, it seems probable that the reason our butter in Canada is thicker and less spreadable recently may be the type of feed being fed to Canadian dairy cows. Apparently, for nearly a decade it has been common for dairy farmers to boost the fat content of cow’s milk by feeding them feed that contains palm oil fats. This palm oil fatty feed supposedly boosts the fat content of the cow’s milk, increasing the production of products like butter, and as a side effect raises the melting temperature leaving it sitting hard on our tabletops. The reason that this phenomenon has been noted acutely recently is the recent boom in home baking brought on by COVID-19 isolation which has boosted demand for butter.
Since this article and others have been published, many who have just become aware of this practice are questioning the impacts of this widespread use of palm oil in the food of cows and the health impacts for cows and us as consumers.
Another opinion piece in the Globe and Mail also suggested that knowing the impacts of palm oil on southeast Asian forests, indigenous people, and endangered animals like orangutans, makes the use of it in our dairy industry “ethically questionable” and in “breach of its moral contract with Canadians”.
The Dairy Farmers Association of Canada has now formed a working group that will be investigating the effects of the use of palm oil fats in dairy feed and what it means for our butter. They have now asked Dairy farmers consider alternatives to palm supplements.
Have you noticed your butter is less spreadable than it used to be? Well, now we know why. Your butter now has palm oil in it because our cows are eating palm oil!
Keep an eye on the news to see what happens with “Buttergate”, this working group, and what it means for our butter and orangutans.