The Problem with Palm Oil

Pick up a box of Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, Pringles, or Philadelphia cream cheese, and global warming is probably pretty far from your mind. But these treats—along with a plethora of other popular products, including cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, and fabric softeners—share a common ingredient: palm oil.

As the push for processed foods skyrockets, so has the demand for palm oil, which is now the most widely traded vegetable oil in the world. (Demand is also coming from the surge in “biofuels;” half of all palm oil is used for fuel, not for food.)

The problem? Today, nearly 100 percent of palm oil originates in Malaysia or Indonesia, where plantations are created by razing the rainforests and draining peatlands, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. The growth of the palm oil industry has given Indonesia the dubious honor of ranking near the top in global emissions.

What can you do about it?

The environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, a long-time defender of rainforests, has launched a “Problem with Palm Oil” campaign to put pressure on companies buying from big palm oil importers, like Cargill, to clean up its supply chain.

Already the citizen action group (I sit on its board) has succeeded in getting some big-name companies that buy from Cargill, like Seventh Generation and Whole Foods, to sign on to a pledge for sustainable palm.

Published on: May 24, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Anna Lappe

Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author, widely respected for her work on sustainability and food systems. Her most recent book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About it, has been called “impeccable, informative and inspiring” by Booklist.

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