Are your Skittles destroying the rainforest? Part 1


Today, I've decided to start a series on palm oil and palm ingredients - and alternatives to them.  I'm in the process of building a website on the same subject ( ), but that will take a bit of time, and time is not something worth wasting in this context.

A specific type of vegetable oil may not sound like a particularly interesting subject, but palm oil is no ordinary vegetable oil.  It is one of the more destructive forces on our planet today.  Or maybe I should say that the machine of people and corporations in place to grow and distribute palm oil is one of the more destructive forces on our planet.  Either way, consuming this ingredient - which is in an unbelievable amount of foods and cosmetics and other things - is something which makes one responsible for encouraging the ds

Let's start with a basic statement, and add more to it as we go:

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate to make room for palm plantations.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.  Many species - both discovered and undiscovered - are being driven to extinction because of habitat loss.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.  Many species - both discovered and undiscovered - are being driven to extinction because of habitat loss.  The most notable is the orangutan, which could become extinct within the decade because of deforestation in Malaysia, Borneo, and Indonesia.

Now you've got the gist of it.  Palm oil plantations - while providing a considerable amount of jobs and a product that is used in many places - are hurting our climate (through the burning of forest and the destruction of a carbon sink), the local environment, and even small landowners.  Take a look at this recent AFP story:

Global trends including high prices for oil and commodities, the biofuels boom, and now the sweeping downturn, are spurring import-reliant countries to take action to protect their sources of food.

China and South Korea, which are both short on arable land, and Middle Eastern nations flush with petrodollars, are driving the trend to sign up rights to swathes of territory in Asia and Africa.

"Today's food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab," the Spain-based agricultural rights group Grain said in a recent report.

It said that some deals were targeted at boosting food security by producing crops that would be sent back home for consumption, while others were to establish money-making plantations like palm oil and rubber.

"As a result of both trends, fertile agricultural land is being swiftly privatised and consolidated by foreign companies in some ofthe world's poorest and hungriest countries," it said.

In one of the biggest deals, South Korea's Daewoo Logistics said in November it would invest about 6.0 billion dollars to develop 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) in Madagascar -- almost half the size of Belgium...

But opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he was suspicious about why a wealthy nation like Kuwait needed to lease land to grow rice rather then just import the grain.

"Cambodian farmers need the land," he said, urging the government to limit the area under lease and ensure Cambodia was not plundered by foreign nations...

"It's particularly explosive in those countries where you have a high degree of landlessness, like the Philippines where seven out of 10 rural people do not have access to land," he said.

In the impoverished and corrupt dictatorship of Laos, some experts estimate that between two million and three million hectares have been parcelled off in a rampant and uncontrolled process that has now been suspended by the government.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has sounded alarm over the loss of land in a country where in rural areas, every second child is malnourished and access to land for foraging of natural resources is critical.

As I mentioned earlier, orangutans are also suffering.  A Center for Science in the Public Interest report from 2006 stated:

Malaysia and Indonesia account for 83 percent of palm oil production, according to Cruel Oil--a 2005 CSPI report on the health and environmental consequences of palm oil. Since the 1970s, the area planted with oil palm in Indonesia has grown more than 30-fold to almost 12,000 square miles. In Malaysia, the area devoted to oil palm has increased 12-fold to 13,500 square miles.

As rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations, orangutans and other species have less room to roam and reproduce and become easier targets for poachers. Borneo's orangutan population was reduced by a third in just one year, 1997, when almost 8,000 were either burned to death or massacred as they tried to flee fires set to clear rainforest for new plantations.

The Seattle Times also reported,

The orangutans' biggest enemy, United Nations experts said, is no longer poachers or illegal loggers. It's the palm-oil industry...

The park is on the southern tip of the island of Borneo, which is shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, the last two of the world's top producers of palm oil. Exporters market the product as an environmentally friendly alternative to crude oil and a replacement for oils containing trans fats.

"They change the forest and say it's for energy sustainability, but they're killing other creatures," said Ichlas al-Zaqie, local project manager for Los Angeles-based Orangutan Foundation International...

98 percent of Indonesia's forest might be lost by 2022, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

"If the immediate crisis in securing the future survival of the orangutan and the protection of national parks is not resolved, very few wild orangutans will be left within two decades," the U.N. environment program concluded in a 2007 report...

In July, loggers finished buzz-sawing and bulldozing a 40,000-acre swath in a northeastern corner of the park, where at least 561 orangutans lived, to clear ground for oil-palm plants, al-Zaqie said.

Now that you have an introduction to the problem that palm oil causes, I'll give you a bit of basic information on how to avoid it (I'll give you a more complete idea in the future, particularly when is completely functional).  First of all, look at the ingredients of every bit of processed food and cosmetic you buy.  If there is anything with the word "palm" in it - whether it's palm oil, palm kernel oil, palmitic acid, or something else - you should put the product back on the shelf and look for an alternative.

Biofuel is also a major market for palm oil.  If you use biofuel, please make sure it is not palm oil.

If you wish to take further action, visit the "Participate" page of  It is the most complete section of the website.  It has a list of ingredients that palm appears as, a way for you to contact companies that use palm, and more.

The thing that you can do right now that will have the most impact is to stop buying products with palm ingredients in them.  This will reduce the demand for them and send a message to companies that use them.  There are so many products with palm in them that you have to be ever vigilant at the supermarket, drugstore, convenience store, etc.  Below I've listed just a few off the top of my head:

Good Humor chipwiches
Wasa crackers
Trader Joe's chocolate chip cookies
Newman's Own Oreos
Clearasil face wash
Kit Kats
Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets
A comment from user jayden:  "Kellog's Eggo Nutri-grain whole wheat waffles have both palm oil and palm kernel listed in the ingredients."

If you want to learn more before my next diary, check out the "Learn" page of my website.  There are a few articles listed there that are pretty informative.

Also, to anyone with some experience with Wordpress:  I currently have my website on Globat, but I think I am going to switch it to Wordpress.  However, I'm basically computer illiterate.  I need help editing a Wordpress site to my needs.  Email me at if you're interested in helping (if you know what you're doing, it should be easy, quick stuff).

Thanks everyone for your time and help with this urgent, under-reported issue.

Tags: asia, Borneo, boycott, Global Warming, learn, orangutans, palm, palm oil, plantations, rainforest (all tags)



avoiding processed food generally

is good for your health and for the planet.

If it doesn't have palm oil, it probably has high-fructose corn syrup (or maltodextrin, which is the solid form of high-fructose corn syrup).

I love apes. It is so sad that orangutan habitat is being destroyed.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-04 11:16AM | 0 recs

That's why I hardly ever buy processed foods any more. I guess I'll just have to be more vigilant when I'm shopping at TJ's. I didn't even know their chocolate chip cookies had palm oil! I'll have to remember not to ever include those rainforest-killing sweets on my shopping list.

by atdleft 2009-01-04 11:48AM | 0 recs
I recommend that you cross-post this diary

At La Vida Locavore, the community blog on food and agriculture issues:

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-04 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: I recommend that you cross-post this diary

Thanks!  I just signed up, didn't even know that site existed.

by rossl 2009-01-04 12:08PM | 0 recs
it's only about six months old

but it's a nice community, and I learn something every time I click over there.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-04 12:58PM | 0 recs
I guess...

I'll need to join as well! I didn't even know this place existed.

by atdleft 2009-01-04 02:02PM | 0 recs
What's good for you is good for the planet

Even if it weren't contributing to deforestation in the rain forest, you shouldn't eat palm oil anyhow. It's one of the worst for raising cholesterol.

I go along with the commenter above who said to avoid all processed foods as a rule. Once you make that choice, you're naturally going to be forced to buy things that are fresher, more wholesome and more likely to be local, and therefore more ecologically sound.

by gas28man 2009-01-05 08:56AM | 0 recs


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