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Palm Oil in Your Food is Causing Tropical Rainforest Destruction

Updated on February 13, 2020
Melis Ann profile image

I'm a mother, environmental scientist & former Covid contact tracer who does research on a variety of health-related topics. Copyright 2021

The high demand for palm oil causes massive destruction of tropical rainforests and peat swamp forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. These tropical rainforests have been cleared to make room for oil palm plantations. Help protect tropical forests by supporting sustainable palm oil production. Action can be taken in two ways: lowering our dependence on palm oil in combination with requiring that palm oil production is done sustainably. Creating a more balanced industry is the key to protecting our natural resources.

Copyright © 2018 Melis Ann

Tropical Rainforests and Deforestation

Prevent deforestation of our tropical rainforests by supporting sustainable farming in rainforest communities.
Prevent deforestation of our tropical rainforests by supporting sustainable farming in rainforest communities. | Source

What is Palm Oil and Where Does Palm Oil Come From?

Palm oil comes from high yielding oil palm trees which grow in the tropics. Palm oil is heavily demanded around the world with the U.S. being the second largest consumer. It's estimated that 50% of our packaged foods contain palm oil. Palm oil is a popular ingredient in cosmetics, food, soaps and detergents.

Palm Fruit Oil vs Palm Kernel Oil

The two types are palm kernel oil (derived from the seed) and palm fruit oil (derived from the fruit). Use of palm oil has surged recently as an alternative to trans fats in cereals, cookies and many snack foods, including organic foods.

Palm oil plantations in Cigudeg, Bogor,  Indonesia. This photo shows the deforestation of the rainforest to make way for oil palm plantations.
Palm oil plantations in Cigudeg, Bogor, Indonesia. This photo shows the deforestation of the rainforest to make way for oil palm plantations. | Source

The Problem with Palm Oil: Carbon Dioxide,
Greenhouse Gases, Wildlife Habitat, Climate Control

The high demand for palm oil has caused massive destruction of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia where these rainforests have been cleared to make room for oil palm plantations. Cutting down these forests releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, takes away the ability of the planet to process greenhouse gases back into oxygen, destroys wildlife habitat and in turn endangers the species that rely on that habitat. These forests are needed to regulate flood waters, humidity and climate as well as provide a home to millions of people who depend on them.

  • 90% of the world's palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • 50% of Indonesia's orangutan population, which depend on the rainforest for their home, has disappeared and at risk of becoming endangered.
  • 30 times more land is being used in Indonesia for palm oil production, and 12 times more land in Malaysia, compared to the 1970s.
  • 90% of Indonesia's land was forest-covered a century ago, but less than 50% of the land is forest-covered today with clearing for oil palm plantations being one of the major contributors.

Peat swamp forests burning on island of Borneo, Malaysia. When peat swamp forests are deforested, the land dries up and becomes prone to flooding and fire.
Peat swamp forests burning on island of Borneo, Malaysia. When peat swamp forests are deforested, the land dries up and becomes prone to flooding and fire. | Source

What are Peat Swamp Forests?

Peat swamp forests are also important to the global climate as they hold huge amounts of carbon above ground in vegetation and more importantly below ground in slowly decomposing organic material. Once these moist tropical forests are drained and cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, carbon dioxide is released into the air and the dry land becomes an area prone to floods and fire, among other adverse affects.

  • 50% of peat forests on the globe are located in Indonesia.
  • 20% of man-made green house gas emissions come from destruction of peat swamp forests.
  • 50% of tropical peat forests have already been cleared to make way for agricultural products, mainly palm oil.

Peat swamp forests are important in global climate control and harbor a huge amount of global carbon. Deforestation releases this carbon and destroys the ability to exchange carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back into oxygen.
Peat swamp forests are important in global climate control and harbor a huge amount of global carbon. Deforestation releases this carbon and destroys the ability to exchange carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back into oxygen. | Source

Rainforest Action Network Visual

Your connection to Rainforest destruction.
Your connection to Rainforest destruction. | Source

Sustainable Oil Palm Plantations?

Reports on oil palm plantations have been very negative, but there are likely many plantations that are working sustainably with the environment. Unfortunately, there is no way to discern the good from the bad. Even with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), made up of those groups invested in the palm oil industry to govern sustainability, there are reports of large suppliers clearing rainforests and peat swamp forests at a rapid rate.

Consumers Take Action

What can we do? Until this situation is under control and a sustainable system has been put in place to harvest palm oil without destroying the rainforests and peat swamp forests, make your voice heard. Tell people about the issue and get people talking.

We don't need to stop using palm oil altogether. We need to support the communities that rely on palm oil production, but make sure that these plantations can sustain themselves and their communities. For some products we can find other sustainable products to replace palm oil but also source palm oil from third-party certified sustainable plantations to halt destruction of our tropical forests and prevent subsequent environmental consequences.

Two Girl Scouts became outraged about palm oil causing rainforest degradation and made their voices heard. They started a petition to tell Girl Scouts of America that consumers want Girl Scout Cookies to contain sustainable palm oil.

The kind of coffee we buy has a direct effect on rainforest destruction.
The kind of coffee we buy has a direct effect on rainforest destruction. | Source

Disclaimer: Note that this website portrays my opinion. I want to help others consider a new or different view. Any action taken based on these opinions is the responsibility of the reader.

Copyright © 2018 Melis Ann
Original work published only at http://melisann.hubpages.com/hub/Palm-Oil-in-Your-Food-Rainforest-Destruction

The Need for a Balanced Palm Oil Industry

Curbing our dependence on palm oil in addition to requiring sustainable palm oil production would help ensure that the rainforests and peat swamp forests are not cleared and subject to destruction. It's reasonable to think that we can have a balance between no palm oil production and heavy palm oil production. We all need to play a role in helping protect tropical forests by supporting sustainable palm oil production.

© 2012 Melis Ann

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