Palm oil trees produce fruit that is turned into oil that is used in many countries around the world. In the US, more than half of all packaged products contain palm oil, including food, beauty products and household products. It's in everything. If you read the ingredient label of the things you buy, you will likely find palm oil.
Why Is Palm Oil a Problem for the Rainforest?
The fruit, which is native to Africa, only grows in the tropics and is now grown primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also grown to a lesser extent in Central and West Africa and in Latin American countries.
Palm fruit is a problematic crop because plantations are established at the expense of ecosystems like rainforests, which are clear cut to grow palm plants. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "Large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations."
Rainforest Action Network refers to oil from such plantations as "Conflict Palm Oil," because, when forests are cleared, there is damage to the forest inhabitants and the environment. Indigenous people lose their homes and animals such as orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers lose their habitat. Burning forests are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and intensive cultivation methods result in soil pollution and erosion and water contamination." The palm oil industry is also rife with labor issues and human rights abuse.
Is All Palm Oil Conflict Palm Oil?
Palm oil can be grown sustainably on plantations that commit to not clearcutting virgin forest. Big food companies have the ability to stop the creation of new plantations that put forest inhabitants and the environment at risk.
Rainforest Action Network has challenged 20 of the biggest food companies - what they're calling "the Snack Food 20" - to get Conflict Palm Oil off their shelves. They've asked these companies to commit to using only Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil (RSPO) and to help stop the destruction of the rainforests. While many companies have signed on, some have not and have continued their destructive practices.
What Can You Do About Conflict Palm Oil?
Where you spend your money when you food shop matters! Rain Forest Action Network created a Grocery Store Cheat Sheet that tells you what food items commonly contain palm oil, and what terms you can look for on ingredient lists that help identify palm oil. If a product you're searching for contains one of these terms and doesn't indicate that it's made with Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil, then you can help save the rainforest and its inhabitants by choosing a different product.
Let's hold these snack food companies accountable and ask them to do better. Print out the cheat sheet, cut it into four sections and share it with three of your friends. Remember, you can vote with your dollars by making better food purchases - it's an effective way to let food companies know "I'm anti-Conflict Palm Oil and pro-rainforest!"