Palm Oil Crisis

Palm oil is the world's most widely consumed vegetable oil, and can be found in an estimated half of all packaged foods sold in American grocery stores. The oil is also present in the majority of cosmetics and many bath products. Demand for palm oil is on the rise due to trans-fat health concerns and bio-fuel development. Indonesia and Malaysia produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil supply.

Developing the vast palm tree plantations required to feed the global palm oil demand has led to the destruction of tropical forests and peatlands. Clear-cutting tropical forests devastates vital habitats for endangered orangutans, tigers, Asian elephants, sun bears, hornbills and other species. These forests are also a critical source of food, medicines and other materials; they are vital to regulating weather patterns and protecting local communities from storms and floods. Deforestation is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions that drives climate change.

The good news is that palm oil can be produced without deforestation. Some companies are now taking steps to grow palm oil more responsibly, including planting on degraded land instead of forests and growing higher-yield crops.

The bad news is that too many companies are lagging behind, with weak commitments to sustainable palm oil production, or none at all. The most effective way consumers can help wildlife impacted by palm oil is to advocate for more responsible production. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer, because different vegetable oils can easily be substituted. The solution is to demand that companies use and produce palm oil that is deforestation-free.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), is a network of hundreds of organizations with interest in the global palm oil supply chain. The RSPO has developed a set of sustainability standards for the industry. If your favorite product contains palm oil, then contact the manufacturer and ask them to use certified sustainable palm oil from suppliers that have made a clear commitment to halt deforestation. If the manufacturer already uses sustainable palm oil, then ask them to indicate this on product packaging to help consumers make the best choice to protect the environment.

The RSPO Shopping Guide lists products that carry the RSPO logo. You can also visit to find out if a company is a member of the RSPO and see what actions they are taking to improve the sustainability of their supply chains. If you would like to learn more about palm oil, then the materials at the San Diego Zoo Global Library are a good place to start.




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