Candy is a focus for youngsters at this time of the year, and that makes this a perfect time to talk about how one ingredient in some forms of candy is hurting orangutans in Borneo. It seems like there would be no connection between your chocolate bar and a primate from Indonesia, but there is - it's palm oil.
Certain types of palm trees produce large red fruit which are rich with oil. After refining, this oil, known as palm oil, can be used to produce all sorts of products, including oils used in foods like chocolates and cookies, cosmetics like makeup, and even biodiesel, a fuel that can be used in cars instead of diesel (gasoline).
Oil palms, as these trees are called, have very high oil yields and given that and the many uses for its oil, it may seem that oil palm is a great solution to dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and concerns about global warming (the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere). However, there are problems is some places where palm oil is being produced, specifically the tropical rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia. Although much of this production took place on land long ago established for agriculture, some of it occurred in areas that were newly cleared specifically for oil palm cultivation.
Greenhouse gas emissions result when rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations. Worse, oil palm plantations support very low levels of biodiversity, meaning most of the plants and animals once found in the rainforest must either move or perish. Oil palm plantations are not good for wildlife and endangered species like the orangutan, the Sumatran rhino, the pygmy elephant of Borneo, and the Sumatran tiger are all threatened by development for oil palm.
What can you do about this?
The first thing you can do is be aware of palm oil and its impact on the environment. Look at the labels of household products and packaged foods to see if they contain palm oil. Palm oil isn't going to go away, but consumer pressure on the industry will help force it to reduce its impact on the environment.
Remember it is important to note that not all palm oil is bad for rainforests, but until there are ways to know which companies are responsible and which are not, all palm oil is suspect.
Here are some lists that will help you decide what products are safe to purchase for your little Halloween ghosts and goblins, thanks to the members of RSPO, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil :
A palm oil shopping guide
(note – this document is 33 pages long and you are encouraged not to print it, but refer to it when needed)