Palm oil is a widely used vegetable oil used in food products, such as Oreos and Cheez-Its, and also soaps and other personal care products. But while you've been casually enjoying your processed snack foods, palm oil has gained a less than stellar environmental reputation.
According to Fortune magazine, the huge increase in demand for palm oil demand has nearly doubled in the last decade as food consumption has soared has led farmers to expand their plantations, burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. These two nations are the source of nearly all of the U.S. imports of palm oil.
Now various nonprofits, including the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are campaigning against palm oil in an effort to raise awareness of destructive deforestation practices. The groups want big consumer goods companies to look into their source of palm oil.
Mike Brune, the executive director of RAN, is quoted in the article: "We're working our way down the food chain. Most customers won't want rainforest destruction and climate change in every mouthful of cookies or crackers, so our plan is to start with the most prominent brands." The group has targeted companies that grow or import palm oil, including Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Bunge.
Some corporations under attack say they're doing their best to buy palm oil that is produced with minimal harm to the environment, and are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a partnership setting standards for palm-oil cultivation.
But critics say, according to the article, that the RSPO principles don't prevent the destruction of rainforests, and are not well-enforced.
The article suggests this isn't unlike Greenpeace's efforts a few years ago, when the environmental group attacked McDonald's for buying soy from the Amazon, which contributed to deforestation. Cargill and Bunge, the soy supplier, was persuaded to stop buying soy from newly cleared areas.
John Buchanan of Conservation International says in the article that the big companies have to seek out responsible sources of palm oil: "It's really important for the market to step up and create demand."
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