Oil Palm in Your Food: Rainforest's and Climate's Greatest Scourge

May 2, 2009

Palm oil is very likely to be found in your margarine, bread, biscuits and candy bars -- frequently listed as "vegetable oil" in the ingredients. Thirty square miles of carbon and biodiversity rich habitat are being cleared a day to provide you these products, largely in Malaysia and Indonesia, but increasingly threatening primary forests wherever they are found, including in the Amazon.

Rainforest Rescue has been campaigning against the spread of industrial, monoculture oil palm plantations in primary rainforests for years, with some success, but the threat keeps on escalating. This is largely due to the extent to which oil palm has emerged as a cheap food ingredient in industrial nations. This is one manner where each of our behaviors are impacting rainforests and ultimately climate and biodiversity.

Palm oil is very likely to be found in your margarine, bread, biscuits and candy bars -- frequently listed as "vegetable oil" in the ingredients. Thirty square miles of carbon and biodiversity rich habitat are being cleared a day to provide you these products, largely in Malaysia and Indonesia, but increasingly threatening primary forests wherever they are found, including in the Amazon.

When the rainforests disappear almost all of the wildlife – including the orangutans, tigers, sun bears, bearded pigs and other endangered species – as well as the indigenous people, are gone forever. They are replaced by toxic, water hungry palm-oil plantations stretching for mile after mile, producing the cheapest cooking oil in the world for everyday food -- and increasingly biodiesel to power our cars. As long as primary ancient forests that make Earth habitable are being replaced with toxic oil palm plantations, it is ludicrous to speak of "sustainable" oil palm.

Increasingly rainforests are threatened by industrial agriculture as land becomes scarce and the wants of soaring populations continue to grow. Global ecological sustainability and local well-being depends critically upon ending all industrial development -- logging, plantations, mining, dams, etc. -- in the world remaining old forests. The amount of primary and old growth forests that have been lost has already overshot the carrying capacity of Earth. In other words, there are not enough old forests to maintain climatic and hydrological cycles, and the biosphere in total.

What remains must be fully protected and assisted to expand through natural regeneration and human assisted restoration. There exists great potential to compensate local peoples and governments for full protection of their primary rainforests, and for allowing them to regrow. But this is only appropriate if these areas are strictly protected from all industrial activities, local peoples give their consent and will benefit from standing forests, and it is not an excuse to do environmental harm elsewhere. We encourage you to take responsibility for the ingredients in your food, ensuring it is as oil palm free as possible. And of course, please continue to be active in our campaigns highlighting the dangers of industrial agriculture, biofuels and biomass energy in relation to rainforests, climate and biodiversity.