Palm oil is the most widely produced edible vegetable oil in the world and is an ingredient in nearly half of all consumer products. With so much demand, many companies are using unsustainable practices to produce the oil, which in turn is wiping out thousands of animal species.
Palm oil is obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree, which originated in West Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Ninety percent of palm oil is now produced in Indonesia and Malaysia - about 44 million metric tons per year and increasing! As production demands increase, many companies choose to cut down healthy rainforest (gaining increased income from the timber) instead of using already cleared land.
This region includes the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which are home to some of your favorite Nashville Zoo animals, like the siamang, clouded leopard, rhinoceros hornbill and Sumatran tiger.
Palm oil is found in about 50% of all supermarket items including everything from shampoo to ice cream to breakfast cereal to baby formula to lipstick. However, even though you may not see “palm oil” in the ingredient listing, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Palm oil and its derivatives have more than 50 different names, making it difficult for consumers to know if products contain palm oil. Various names include: palm kernel oil, palmitate, sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, stearic acid and vegetable oil.
With so many names, it is not realistic to boycott palm oil. Instead, we should ensure the products we purchase contain sustainably-produced palm oil.
If produced sustainably, palm oil can be the best choice for vegetable oil because it produces more oil per acre than any other vegetable oil crop, meaning less land is needed to produce the same amount of oil. In addition to having the potential to be an environmentally-friendly crop, palm oil has economic benefits, employing millions of people in the poverty-stricken countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a group of palm oil growers, businesses, non-profits, conservation NGOs and government institutions that launched a certification system in 2007, establishing criteria for certified sustainable palm oil. RSPO certification means that production has not harmed native wildlife, violated the rights of indigenous people or had other negative environmental impacts. Products that are certified by the RSPO are labeled with a certified sustainable palm oil logo.
It is critical for consumers to support the RSPO’s efforts, and show consumer preference for products made by RSPO members, and ultimately demand certified sustainable palm oil.
Companies that are currently leading the way with sustainable palm oil practices include: Hershey’s, Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s, Mars, Kraft - Heinz, and more.
Several popular and powerful companies are lagging behind in their palm oil practices, including Nestlé, Mary Kay, and Proctor & Gamble.
If you are concerned about the effects of NON-sustainable palm oil production on wildlife, take action!
Take a baby step: Join the Zoo and commit to purchasing treats that are made with sustainable palm oil. Our friends at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo have made it easy for you with a handy Halloween candy guide.
Take the next step: Start looking for the RSPO seal on all the products you buy. Don’t see it? Use the Palm Oil Shopping App (available in Google Play or the App Store) to easily check the status of the products you buy.
Go the extra mile: Write to your favorite restaurants and companies and ask them to commit to 100% segregated certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) that is deforestation-free. Take a look at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s sample letter you can use and send a letter page with hyperlinks to non-RSPO companies’ contact information.
For more ways to help save the rainforests visit here.
This October, Nashville Zoo is partnering with Borneo Nature Foundation to raise money toward the protection of species threatened by the palm oil industry. This organization supports and empowers community-led initiatives to protect forest and biodiversity, including anti-logging patrols, fire-fighting teams, environmental education and the replanting and restoration of damaged forests.
For the month of October, every donation made to Nashville Zoo’s conservation fund will be matched by the Zoo and donated to Borneo Nature Foundation.