Note: Jeff Conant is former communications director for Global Justice Ecology Project, as well as a dear friend and colleague. He is now the international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth.
-The GJEP Team
By Jeff Conant, December 13, 2013. Source: AlterNet
Photo: Jeff Conant
If you’re an American looking to do your part to protect tropical rainforests, you need look no further than your kitchen pantry. As you’ve likely heard by now, the world’s leading killer of tropical forests is palm oil—and palm oil derivatives are in your cookies, your ice cream, your shampoo, and—I’m sorry to tell you this—in your chocolate.
While industry analysts attribute the ubiquity of palm oil to consumer demand, palm oil isn’t in all these products because you demanded it, because it’s healthy, or because it tastes good (it doesn’t). It’s there because it’s cheap. Palm oil is cheap because it’s produced by a global industry built on land grabbing, human rights abuses and environmental devastation. Along with low production costs and a growing market comes the other reason why palm oil has become ubiquitous: it gives high returns on investment.
Palm oil’s environmental footprint
Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, native to West Africa, and used, as of very recently, in thousands of consumer products, from baked goods and ice cream to cleaning products and biofuels. Because of its high melting point, its high yield, and its lack of unhealthy trans fats, palm oil has rapidly come to dominate the global vegetable oil market, with production projected to double again in the next decade. (About 76 percent of palm oil is used for foods, with the remainder used for industrial purposes including biodiesel.)
Nearly 90 percent of global palm oil production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where industry boosters argue it’s been a huge boon for the economy. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the environmental juggernaut that initiated the industry-friendly Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to certify palm oil according to environmental and social criteria, argues that palm oil has lifted millions of poor Indonesians out of poverty. But at what price?