There’s a dirty little story behind the snack foods we’re gobbling on a daily basis. About half of them, which translates hundreds of varieties of chocolates, cookies, crackers and other treats sold in groceries around the world, contain palm oil.
And in most cases, that palm oil has not been sustainably and humanely obtained.
The Rainforest Action Network is trying to get consumers to understand the ramifications behind all this palm oil they’re blithely and inadvertently consuming. So the group today published the “Snack Food 20,” the top companies selling packaged food with palm oil (read on, the list is below).
RAN is concerned because the palm oil industry is rapidly destroying the world’s remaining rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm plantations are replacing dense, native old-growth forests.
These forests are being burned and plowed down so that companies can more quickly supply a world whose appetite for snack foods is nearly insatiable.
While the forests are “replaced” with palm plantations, that doesn’t translate into saving the ecosystem that thrived there initially. Native people are losing their livelihood, carbon-saving forests are being lost, and orangutans, a close relative of man, are being slaughtered or dying for lack of habitat.
Only about 60,000 Sumatran and Bornean orangutans remain in the wild, and could face extinction within a few years.
RAN’s campaign aims to help consumers make the connection between orangutans, rainforests and your potato chips.
They’ve coined a new tern “conflict palm oil” and released a study, Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations to connect the dots.
Palm Oil Plantations Trample Native Forests
Some highlights from the report:
- Palm oil consumption has increased nearly sixfold since 2000, with about 1.25 million metric tons sold in 2012.
The growth has been fueled by the new labeling requirement in the U.S. for trans fat. Palm oil is low in trans fats, and so companies have shifted to using palm oil in place of trans fats. The move to expose trans fats on labels was because research has shown them to be harmful to heart health.
- But palm oil may not represent a big improvement over trans fats. “Palm oil is often mistakenly promoted for its health benefits based on low trans fat content, while ignoring the fact that it is also very high in saturated fats.
other health claims about the virtues of palm oil are largely hearsay and based on the purported antioxidant properties of fresh and unprocessed palm oil, not the highly processed food additive widely used in packaged foods,” the study reports.
- The palm oil frenzy is destroying Indonesia’s natural resources, exchanging them for short term economic gains. Plantations have grown 600 percent since 1990 to cover nearly 20 million acres of land. More than 50 percent of this expansion has occurred at the expense of virgin tropical rainforests, dismantling or seriously disrupting the lives of tens of millions of people who depend on the forests for their work, diet or cultural identity.
- As many as 200,000 migrant child work on Malaysia’s palm plantations, without any rights to education or labor laws governing their treatment.
The Snack Food 20 — Your Cookie, Indonesia’s Misfortune
All these changes have been wrought by the massive growth of packaged foods, and the shift toward using palm oil in snack foods and other edible products.
And the first thing you need to know about the corporations that made RAN’s Snack Food 20 list is that together they gross more than $432 billion in annual revenue. RAN believes they have the financial and brand clout to chain how palm oil is obtained, erase human rights violations and stop deforestation in Indonesian and Malaysia — if their consumers demand it.
RAN plans to take these issues to the companies that can do something about it, and launched its “Power is in Your Palm” tour today by meeting with Kraft Mondelez officials in Chicago. The group plans to meet with other companies, asking them to solve the problems they’ve created, while also raising public awareness.
“In the 21st Century customers don’t want to buy crackers and cookies that are responsible for pushing the world’s last wild orangutans to extinction and for horrifying child labor violations. That’s why Rainforest Action Network is putting these top 20 snack food companies using ‘Conflict Palm Oil’ on notice that it’s time to develop responsible policies and create products that reflect the values of their customers and the needs of our planet,” said Lindsey Allen, the Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network.
Here, by the way, are those 20 companies that routinely use palm oil and own some of the world’s best known brands, according to RAN:
- Campbell Soup Company
- ConAgra Foods, Inc.
- Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. (You know them as Dunkin Donuts)
- General Mills, Inc.
- Grupo Bimbo
- Hillshire Brands Company
- H.J. Heinz Company
- Hormel Foods Corporation
- Kellogg Company (think breakfast bars)
- Kraft Food Group, Inc.
- Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Corp. (more donuts)
- Mars Inc.
- Mondelez International, Inc.
- Nestlé S.A.
- Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd.
- PepsiCo, Inc. (snack subsidiary, Frito-Lays)
- The Hershey Company (this makes two child labor problems for them, given their cocao sourcing issues)
- The J.M. Smucker Company
- Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd.
So what’s a consumer to do? Read labels and if you see palm oil, skip buying the product. (It’s not that healthful anyway).
RAN would also like the public to send a message to these food companies to cut out the palm oil, and quit cutting down tropical forests.
What is “Conflict Palm Oil”?
The report also explained the difference between “Conflict Palm Oil” and “Responsible Palm Oil.”
“The expansion of palm oil plantations into natural rainforests and customary lands of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities causes widespread conflict across Indonesia and Malaysia. It causes conflict between people and wildlife as palm oil plantation workers too often shoot, kill, or capture orangutans, elephants, and tigers that have lost their habitat and wander onto plantations.There is conflict between indigenous Peoples and palm oil producers who gain permits from government officials but fail to obtain Free, Prior, and informed Consent (FPiC) before they clear their forests for palm oil.”