Palm oil is in many of the products we use but it has a few dark secrets you need to know about. One of these is the harm it’s bringing to endangered species.
Things we do every day can be harmful to already endangered species. Even what we eat has a huge impact on animals and their survival.
One of those things doing harm is palm oil. You will find palm oil in everything from cookies to soap, it’s in close to 50% of packaged food in supermarkets, even in our Girl Scout cookies.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of palm trees. The palm trees used to get the oil are native to Africa but were brought to South-East Asia just over 100 years ago as an ornamental tree. Now palm oil is in many of the products we use every day.
The worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing for five decades. Most of it comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. And while the demand of palm oil has lifted incomes for some impoverished areas it’s come at a huge cost.
Why is Palm Oil a Problem?
Palm oil accounts for 10% of the permanent global cropland. Much of that cropland came at the cost of clearing forests. Those forests were home to Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, and orangutans.
Cutting down rainforests also harms the environment and palm oil production is also the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia.
Humans are also harmed by the making of palm oil outside of the environmental threat. The exploitation of works and child labor are some of the human rights abuses happening.
The Impact of Palm Oil on Endangered Species
Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, and orangutans are all critically endangered and being harmed by palm oil production but they are far from the only animals being threatened.
The Sumatran elephant and Bornean pygmy elephant, Sunda Clouded Leopard, Sunda pangolin, Crested black Macaque, and Asian tapir are all being threatened and are all endangered.
These rainforests that are being destroyed for palm oil are home to many other species that can easily become endangered as well. There are likely even species that have yet to be discovered using these forests as their homes.
What Can You Do About the Palm Oil Problem?
The impacts of palm oil are far reaching and it can seem like there isn’t much an individual can do but your actions can make a difference and add up as more join in.
Palm oil can be produced in a more sustainable way. The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 to address many of these concerns about the impact of palm oil. They have created a set of best practices for producing and sourcing palm oil.
The RSPO certifies palm oil that fits their standards. The standard was strengthened in 2018 to ensure companies are committed to stopping deforestation, expansion on peat, and the use of fire.
Organizations like this can help you make sure you are helping promote better palm oil standards and help you take action to make a difference.
Girl Scout Cookies and Palm Oil
Several years ago two Girl Scouts learned about palm oil and that it was in the famous cookies they were selling. They worked hard and got the Girl Scouts to switch to a more sustainable version of palm oil. It’s very impressive what these Girl Scouts did and shows that we can make a difference.
Now another Girl Scout is calling out the cookies again for not doing enough. It turns out Girl Scouts palm oil is labeled as “certified sustainable” but this Girl Scout noticed it also says “mixed.”
This 11-year-old has found that sustainable palm oil is being blended with unsustainable sources. And now a link to child labor practices.
Some Girl Scouts are even skipping selling the cookies, which are a huge fundraiser. There are also Girl Scouts asking people to sign petitions to get palm oil removed from the cookies.
We should take note of these amazing Girl Scouts and the work they are doing to push for sustainable palm oil. We need to join with them and help protect human rights, animals, and our planet.
- Avoid palm oil products when unsure of the companies standards.
- Check out the World Wildlife Fund’s Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard to see if your favorite brands are committed to sustainable palm oil
- Ask your favorite brands to commit to using sustainable palm oil or other sustainable alternatives.