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Palm Oil in Your Food is Causing Tropical Rainforest Destruction

Updated on April 01, 2015

The high demand for palm oil has caused 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 © 2015 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 © 2015 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.

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    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Very important information here, thanks for writing such an informative hub.

      Palm oil is also being touted as a "green" biofuel here in the UK, but thankfully most people are now seeing through this nonsense and campaigning against proposed palm oil energy plants.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      I've heard that people are pushing back against the use of palm oil as a biofuel as well. There is just no way to sustain the level of production that would be needed to support biofuels in addition to the current demand for palm oil. Thanks for your comment Imogen!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

      We have so much to learn about how our actions affect others. Isn't that what "thinking globally" is (or should be) about? Thanks for the thought-provoking read.

    • profile image

      Ghost32 5 years ago

      Heh! Until I read this, I had no idea anybody cared a hoot about palm oil one way or the other!

      Voted Up and Useful.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Yes RedElf - it would be great to make these decisions on a global basis versus and individual one. Thanks for reading!

      You're not the only one Ghost23 - I happened to come across this issue while writing another hub about coffee and rainforest destruction. I'm glad you found my hub!

    • JoAnn Knight Coe profile image

      JoAnn Knight Coe 5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

      Very informative and glad to see the Girl Scouts are taking action!

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      @JKC - It is impressive to see young Girl Scouts involved in these big issues!

    • profile image

      Yolanda G. Lemaitre 5 years ago

      The same way they are cutting down and burning down the Amazon Rainforest, Indonesia and Malaysia, the same way they have to pay to replant it. All these companies raping the Rainforest’s of the world should be liable and be penalized for crimes against humanity. The Rainforests provides 20 of our oxygen for the Planet. Therefore the Rainforests must be saved for the sake of our children and their children’s children.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thanks for your comment Yolanda. I think that the rainforests are popularly touted as important, but until it's specifically explained to people WHY they are important the message isn't going to stick. Our society needs to be more focused on sustainability rather than the bottom line by making it difficult monitarily for companies to take advantage of our natural resources like the rainforest.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Thanks for this thought-provoking piece. How ofter we forget how our actions effect others down the line.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thanks for your comment KoffeeKlatch Gals! Making conscious decisions about our food is a great way to ensure we are considering all the factors.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Wow, just thought palm oil was healthy. I didn't know it was destroying the environment. Your hub makes me think twice about using this product. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thanks for the read alocsin. Palm oil is considered one of the healthier oils, but if we could get it sourced from a sustainable oil palm plantation then it would be ideal. Many rainforest communities depend on the sale of palm oil so it would upset these economies to completely ditch palm oil. We would all benefit from supporting sustainable options!

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