The Rainforest Action Network is launching a public campaign, complete with two 15-year-old girl scouts and a "Rainforest Hero" merit badge styled after those worn by scouts on their sashes, with a strong message: Stop using palm oil in Girl Scout cookies.
Palm oil has been widely used in the cosmetics industry for years, and more recently in the snack food industry because it replaces shortening as a trans fat-free option in the baking process. The problem lies in the skyrocketing demand for the product (it's now found in half of all packaged foods), which has prompted farms in Southeast Asia particularly, according to Rainforest Action Network, those that Cargill runs to replace rain forests with palm plantations on a vast scale. That deforestation not only leads to the loss of some of the world's most diverse habitat, including habitat for the lovable orangutan, but it is also a major contributor to global warming. By some estimates, 15% of global warming pollution can be traced to deforestation. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as a healthy rain forest would do, the deforested landscape releases carbon to the atmosphere; by some measures, Indonesia is third behind China and the United States in overall carbon dioxide emissions, not because of industrial pollution but because of deforestation.
Girl Scouts of America flatly acknowledges that its use of palm oil is an environmental problem, but states in an FAQ on the topic that its bakers still need it and will continue to use it in certain cookies. The Girl Scouts of America says they're working to reduce the use of palm oil, to search for alternatives, to use only palm oil from members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and to purchase the most environmentally friendly palm oil it can afford. Further, this year, Little Brownie Bakers and its parent company, Kellogg, are buying GreenPalm certificates, which are used to help growers transition to sustainable farming practices.
The Rainforest Action Network acknowledges those steps, though it has criticized both the Roundtable and the GreenPalm certificates as weak efforts, and notes that none of the steps actually stops the use of environmentally destructive palm oil. And it's not alone. Other groups, including Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Biological Diversity and Orangutan Foundation International have all expressed concerns to the Girl Scouts of America. Past efforts have pressured companies like General Mills, Unilever, Nestle and Walmart to seek sustainable sources of palm oil.
The environmental group's main target is not the Girl Scouts, however. For three years, its target has been Cargill, one of the world's largest suppliers of palm oil, and the largest importer of palm oil in the U.S. But ask anyone on the street what Cargill is and you're likely to get a blank stare (it's one of the world's largest private international companies, specializing in food, agriculture and industrial commodities). It's hard to find anyone who doesn't know what a Girl Scout cookie is.
Do you think the campaign is a good idea? Does it change your cookie-buying plans?
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