GMOs, HFCS, artificial colors and now, after a story I wrote a few weeks ago, I scan new products for palm oil. Palm oil? Perhaps like the previous me, the controversy surrounding this ingredient is perfectly unclear? You're feeling too inundated with information to take a stand on yet another food issue, or you're just tired of reading bad news? I hear you. But, after learning that the ingredient appears in natural and conventional products spanning lipstick to peanut butter and (from speaking with several colleagues) that many natural products veterans don't know why it's such an environmental nightmare, the statistics I discovered deserve to be shared. Did you know …?
- Palm oil is a leading cause of rainforest deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia.
- The clearing and burning of land to make room for palm fields has led Indonesia to be the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas after China and the U.S.
- Because of deforestation in these countries, orangutans, Sumatran tigers and Sumatran rhinoceroses teeter on the brink of extinction. A study conducted by the Great Ape Trust, a scientific research facility based in Des Moines, Iowa, predicts orangutans will be the first great ape species no longer found in the wild unless rainforest deforestation is halted.
Even more troubling, an article published this week on Foodnavigator-usa.com, explains that while sustainable options exist, most U.S. manufacturers aren't able/interested in ponying up the dough. A complex supply chain makes ensuring 100 percent sustainable palm oil challenging for suppliers and costly to manufacturers. Additionally, lack of interest in sustainable options from China and India—together the countries account for more than half the global consumption—hasn't encouraged demand. "Although the amount of global palm oil certified sustainable more than doubled in 2010, only 60 percent of supplies were sold," the article states.
So, what's a concerned retailer or consumer to do?
- Become familiar with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. To address the social and environmental concerns surrounding the ingredient, the World Wildlife Fund, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conservation and endangered species, partnered with major players within the palm industry to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. The primary goal of the multistakeholder group has been to define and promote criteria for more sustainable practices.
- Support the RSPO buy stocking/buying products from manufacturers involved in the Green Palm program. If a manufacturer using palm oil can't be found on the RSPO's roster, it's safe to say they're buying unsustainable palm. I have yet to see a label denoting RSPO-certified companies, so supporting the program does take front-end research. You can find a list of members on the organization's website.
- Spread the word. If you blog, blog about the issue or link to this post. The more European and U.S. retailers take a stand on unsustainable palm oil, the more likely manufacturers will begin paying for sustainable options. Experts predict such actions could easily ripple to manufacturers across the globe.