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Save an Orangutan: Don't Buy Palm Oil

John Platt, April 26, 2013

Indonesia's forests are home to some of the most amazing biodiversity on the planet, but those forests are rapidly disappearing -- at the rate of 300 football fields a day. The culprit? Palm oil.

Palm oil can be found in everything from food to soaps to biofuels, but it's also one of the most environmentally costly substances out there.

The oil, made from the fruits of palm trees, isn't that bad in and of itself, but the way it is produced is extremely harmful to the environment. Here's what the Rainforest Action Network has to say about palm oil: "Grown on massive plantations in tropical nations, mainly Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil has been associated with rainforest destruction; threatened extinctions of animals, including orangutans; huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions; and gross human rights and labor violations."

Palm oil plantations have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of orangutans, and a host of other wildlife. Over the past few weeks, fires purposefully (and illegally) set by plantation owners to clear forests and make way for planting palm oil trees were responsible for the deaths of 200 or more orangutans in Aceh forest, the last of the great apes in that region.

Unfortunately, cutting palm oil out of your diet and buying habits is harder than you might think, because it rarely shows up on ingredient lists simply as "palm oil." Instead, it can often show up as Sodium Laureth Sulphate, Sodium Lauryl Sulphates, Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS), Palmate, Palmitate, Elaeis Guineensis, Glyceryl Stearate and a laundry list of other names. Heck, sometimes it's just called "vegetable oil." The Australian website Palm Oil Action has a list of some of the more common names. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has a printable shopping guide, and promises a mobile app in a few months.

Some palm oil is grown sustainably, but it's a very small portion of the market. Look for packages that say their ingredients are certified sustainable.

So pay attention to the ingredients labels when you buy your favorite foods and other commercial goods. You just might help save the planet in the process.

Tags: Animals, Food, Global Reaction News, Rainforests, Wildlife

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