Girl Scouts Launch Palm-Oil Crusade

"To earn their Girl Scout Bronze Award four years ago, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva set out to study orangutans.
Instead, they wound up investigating Thin Mints, Trefoils and Samoas.
What they uncovered soured them on the sweets and has put the Michigan teens at odds with Girl Scouts of the USA. Now they're on a march to change the recipe for Girl Scout cookies.
Their target: palm oil, which can come from places the primates live.
Girl scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen, left, and Madison Vorva
The girls, who have been scouts since they were five, have rallied troops across the country. Scouts sold 198 million boxes of cookies last year, but now some say they're done. Scouts and leaders have criticized their nonprofit organization on Facebook and Twitter.
"My troop is up in arms," says Nicole Bell, a Lansing, Kan., leader and former scout. "They do not want to sell cookies next year."
The Girl Scouts organization says its bakers have told them there isn't a good alternative to palm oil that would ensure the same taste, texture and shelf life. "Girls sell cookies from Texas to Hawaii and those cookies have to be sturdy," says Amanda Hamaker, product sales manager for Girl Scouts of the USA.
Rhiannon, 15, and Madison, 16, both high school sophomores, met in sixth grade. Having already earned a slew of badges, from horseback riding to pets, they decided to work together for their Girl Scout Bronze Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can earn.
Inspired by Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees, the girls sought to raise awareness of endangered orangutans. They learned that orangutan habitat in Southeast Asia is disappearing, partly because some rain forests have been cleared for palm oil plantations." continue story here Palm-Oil Crusade

Girl Scout Cookies and Palm Oil

Who doesn't love Girl Scout Cookies? I know every year around the same time I start getting those cravings for Samoas and Tagalongs. BUT did you know that in 2006 the Girl Scouts decided to reduce the amount of trans fat from their cookies by replacing the ingredients with palm oil. Two young Girl Scouts started a campaign a few years back to remove palm oil from the cookies or to use only sustainably grown palm oil. The problem with that, however, is only 6% of palm oil is grown sustainably. The Girl Scouts claim that they cannot create new recipes for the cookies and that they have to be made with palm oil. A very good point from the article states, "Girl Scout cookies have been made since 1917 and palm oil was only added in 2006. There must have been a recipe sometime in the last 94 years that had neither palm oil nor trans-fats."

What will you do when Girl Scout cookie season comes along? Support a foundation that has been around for almost 100 years or support our environment that is continuously being bulldozed for an unnecessary ingredient?

The Downside of Over-Developing Rainforests for Palm Oil

Cutting down rainforests for new Palm Oil plantations destroys the habitat of many plants and animals and lowers the diversity of species that only thrive in tropical environments. Sad as it may be, clear cutting perfectly good rainforest is the existing norm. It allows companies to get money not only for the rainforest woods but also for the oil products and bi-products from the resulting plantation. What does all this mean for our environment and us?


In 2006 palm oil plantations took up 6 million hectares (of 11 million globally) of Indonesia’s land. The Indonesian government is reclassifying rainforest as “degraded land” making it easier for companies to cut and convert the natural forest into palm oil plantations. It is projected that most of Indonesia’s rainforest will be destroyed by 2022.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Rainforests absorb atmospheric carbon and replace oxygen in our air while moderating temperature and humidity in our local and global climates. Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests lie atop peat bogs that store great quantities of carbon. Damage to peatlands, partly due to palm oil production, is claimed to contribute to environmental degradation, including four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Logging and palm oil plantation farming puts a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention the amounts coming from the transport of palm oil around the world.

Habitat Destruction / Fragmentation
80 mammals can be found in healthy rainforests, 30 in disturbed forests, but only 11 or 12 in palm oil plantations. Cutting down the forest destroys habitat, which in the cases of Malaysia and Indonesia is causing the destruction of biodiversity hot spots. Destruction of their rainforests hinders migration patterns, increases the impact from logging, blocks travel corridors, encroaches on indigenous people’s lands, exposes at-risk animals for poaching, speeds up erosion and sedimentation and increases air, soil and water pollution (from burning to clear the lands and later from the chemicals used as herbicides, insecticides and pesticides).

Reduced Biodiversity
Decreased forest area means easier access for poachers to hunt diverse rainforest species. In addition to the loss of Orangutans, the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant are all critically endandered species and are directly threatened by Palm Oil deforestation. Anytime a large mammal goes extinct, think about how many smaller species also go extinct, yet go unnoticed.

Palm Oil Spills
After plantation owners have raped the land of primary tropical forests and killed or forced out the animals and indigenous people that live there, the oil can be dumped (accidentally or by other means) into the ocean. Further, the “effluent” that is dispelled into the water systems causes death of the fish and water life that exists near the plantations.

Mismanaged agricultural and truly degraded land should be converted into palm oil plantations so we can leave the rainforests alone. Palm oil grows very well in grasslands or other poorly managed land that has already been depleted. There is no reason to use the best virgin rainforest land, when it will grow equally well in other (lesser quality) soil. 

Just because a company is affiliated with the RSPO does not hold them accountable to or mean they are following through on sustainable practices. As a consumer you can look out for the Green Palm Certificate or UTZ Certified logos to be more certain that RSPO standards are being met.

KFC to stop using palm oil

Palm oil has been used worldwide as cooking oil. The industry currently provides a sufficient source of income for a good number of people in developing countries. However, palm oil has been a target of criticisms for some health and environmentally-related concerns. For instance, palm oil is said to cause clogging of arteries due to its fat content. Similarly, the lush forests of Malaysia and Indonesia have been targeted in order to meet the required demand for palm oil. As the need for palm oil increases, much of the tropical rainforests and peat lands are used up to give way for palm oil plantations.
In answer to this great concern, fast food giant KFC is taking a stand to stop using palm oil to cook fried chicken. The said move will hit two birds in one stone as it will both reduce climate change and heart disease. KFC is said to utilize high oleic rapeseed oil instead in 800 outlets in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This switch is believed to lessen saturated fat levels of fried chicken by 25 per cent. It further guarantees KFC consumers that the fast food company is doing its share in protecting the environment because the process of turning forests into palm oil plantations has pushed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
However, KFC will still use palm oil in other food products such as French fries, hash browns, tortillas, and buns, although total switch to no-palm oil fast food is already in the works with suppliers. Additionally, some manufacturers and retailers have also followed suit and have agreed to purchase products only certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Other supporters also demand that the European Union be keen in specifying palm oil as an ingredient in food packages instead of just indicating ‘vegetable oil’. 

Analysis: Land banks buffer Indonesian palm oil from forest ban

Indonesian palm oil firms have been recently banned to tap sensitive peat and forest regions for the next two years. This move was in-place to secure a billion-dollar deal with Norway in order to preserve 64 million hectares of carbon-rich forests and peat lands. This is the country’s contribution to mitigate global warming. Furthermore, to seek the approval of the ban, Jakarta made concessions to the global palm oil industry and other sectors so that permits that have been granted prior the ban will be exempted. Most planters believe that such will suffice in order for them operate without running out of reserves. Thus, the ban makes no difference at all as most of them have enough land banks.

As a result of this endeavor, palm oil firms are now encouraged to look into land reserves. Hence, they can turn their attention to boosting yields and buffering from land banks. Planters have indeed looked into this direction but the challenge is to keep up with the big vegetable oil markets of India and China. At present, Indonesia yields an annual average of 18 tons of fresh fruit bunches per hectare, which is in fact lower than neighboring Malaysia at 20 tons. Therefore, with the ban still in place for at least two years, planters have to plant right and produce abundant yields. However, they still fear the two-year moratorium as they are unsure if this will be extended. It is all the more needed therefore that they focus their attention on increasing yields from existing land sources. Add to this the recent figures that indicate a slow growth in outputs, which can be attributed to the low expansion rate of palm estates in the archipelago. Nonetheless, beyond the ban, planters have also been challenged by heavy rains last year that disrupted their work. Similarly, the labor needed to plant and maintain lands also poses a challenge, which is greater than the ban itself. The adequate specialized manpower needed to boost yields is quite difficult to achieve. Thus, raising yields is definitely easier said than done. 

How does Palm Oil affect Orangutans?

There has been a dramatic decrease in the Orangutan population specifically because of the issues going on with palm oil. The major deforestation that is occurring with palm oil is giving these animals less and less space to live. Habitat is becoming extremely limited and becoming further and further apart. So when these Orangutans are without a home and looking for a new place to live, they are often caught in palm oil fields. When this occurs they are unknowingly trespassing and farmers and legally able to kill them on the spot to protect their crops. Alternatively, it is unlikely that these animals are going to be able to survive in the environments with lack of food, space, and resources. And during the deforestation from fires, there are many slow-moving orangutans that are burned alive in the process. As long as this issue continues, there will be no habitat left and orangutans will become extinct.

To find out more check out:

Big Company Takes Action

Yesterday, S. C. Johnson, a well known company that produces household cleaning supplies as well as other consumer chemicals announced, that by the year 2015 they will exclusively rely on sustainably harvested palm oil. They plan on doing so, by only purchasing form certified sources.

This is certainly good news and shows, that large companies realize the importance of the palm-oil issue. At the same time one could look at these news in a more cynical manner: many ventures of this size have allocated a specific amount of resources to environmental concerns. It is part of the public image they want to portrait in order to be in good standing with their customers.

Either way, it is good for our planet and the people that are negatively affected by deforestation. And for us everyday consumers, we can learn from what chairman and CEO of SC Johnson, Fisk Johnson stated: “While SC Johnson's use of palm oil-based ingredients is relatively small, as a family company we believe responsibility is critical at every level. Being a smaller purchaser doesn't let us off the hook.”

In the same way we have to realize our responsibility as individuals. Just because we are not literally cutting down trees, we are still consumers of a product that results in the destruction of precious rainforest. We wish we were “off the hook” - but we are not. Let's do the same thing and check what we buy for the "green palm" logo:

Palm Oil Diplomacy

Palm oil has been at the center of many heated debates, some of them dealing with whether or not there should be clear laws that regulate the production of palm oil. The article "Palm Oil Diplomacy" by Luke Hunt is an example of such debates. According to the article, a certain Australian senator Nick Xenophon felt that consumers should know whether or not the palm oil they consume was obtained through deforestation, resulting in labeling products that contain palm oil. However, there is controversy around the matter as the Malaysian palm oil industry sees it as a foe to local workers and overall non-beneficial to the state of poverty Malaysia is in. However, the writer of the article attests of the destruction of habitat that is caused by palm oil plantations, and goes on to say that there is physical proof of such claims, stretching from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau or Sandakan in Southeast Asia. 
I thought this article was interesting in the way that it presents both aspects of the issue around palm oil: On one hand there is the problem that palm oil is unhealthy, which justifies the need for labeling goods and foods that contain it, while on the other hand, according to the nations where it is grown in majority, palm oil does not harm the environment and also provides work and income for the workers.
Now we have to wonder, which side do we choose, as either consumer or producer. One way to decide would be to think about it in terms of what palm oil means to us. If one considers palm oil as an unhealthy choice, then he or she will probably choose to think as a consumer, while if one sees palm oil as being good for overall health and has a generally positive view of palm oil, he or she will probably pick the producer's side.

Research has been done in relation to the potential benefits palm oil yields where cancer is concerned. In fact, the article "A New Dietary Oil For the New Millennium-Red Palm oil" features results obtained from experiments conducted using red palm oil. According to the article, "Preliminary research completed at the University of Louisiana and University of Wisconsin in the United States, University of Readings in the United Kingdom and the University of Western Ontario in Canada, suggests palm tocotrienols to be a chemopreventive agent, inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells. Another study found palm tocotrienols to be just as effective as Tamoxifen, the drug used to treat breast cancer patients.  And when used in combination with tocotrienols, Tamoxifen was 45 percent more potent." Tocotrienols are a "super" antioxidant derived of vitamin E. Such groundbreaking discoveries, if well advertised, could revolutionize the world of cancer treatment.


Good News in India

Did you know that India is the world’s biggest user of cooking oil after China and is the largest buyer of palm oil, which represents more than 80 percent of its edible-oil imports?  However, just recently, government officials have offered a higher profit on monsoon-sown oil seeds than on food grains. This will help to boost output of soybeans and peanuts and potentially reduce imports of palm oil. By reducing imports of palm oil we can reduce the demand for it as well which will help to restore the forests that have been destroyed!

Indian Farmers to Boost Oilseed Output

To read the full article visit:

Palm Oil News From Malaysia

Malaysia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, has partnered up with different technology companies in the United States in order to carry out a biomass project that will use the waste from the oil palm industry to produce electric power and other products ranging anywhere from sugar to vaccines. 

The Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) of Malaysia is a joint initiative between the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technologies (MIGHT) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) which aims at increasing Malaysia’s capacity in science and innovation in order to transform it into a high income economy. Prime Minister Najib Razak recently met with experts in New York to discuss Malaysia’s ambition to recover from increasingly poor living standards and rising costs in order to become a high-income nation by 2020. 

Despite lingering skepticism that this goal is unattainable, ideas were still brought up by the panel in New York, one of which focuses on research to increase crop yield in Malaysia’s key palm oil sector. This also includes the efficient production of products for food and biofuel that would reduce waste and shrink the amount of deforestation. 

This is good news for the palm oil industry, as another step is taken in order to make the production of palm oil more environmentally friendly and efficient. Hopefully, we will see the results of this initiative in the near future but until then, visit the sources bellow to read more on this latest news from Malaysia. 


Biofuel Debate

Palm Oil as Biofuel: Good or Bad?

Just because something is labeled an “alternative fuel,” doesn’t mean it’s eco-friendly. This is the controversy surrounding efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

There are multiple types of “alternative fuels.” True, that at the consumer stage they produce less harmful emissions, but what’s lurking in their past? Where did it come from? Was it grown? Manufactured? Transported? Where and by whom?

Do a little math with your answers, and you may be surprised to find that some “alternative fuels” end up with a bigger carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

In a May 2011 article, the MIT News Office reports on recent research by the Federal Aviation Administration for their Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction which “calculated the emissions throughout the life cycle of a biofuel.”

James Hileman, the principle research engineer for the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a researcher on the fore-mentioned biofuel project, explains “You can’t simply say a biofuel is good or bad—it depends on how it’s produced and processed, and that’s part of the debate...”

Land use is a large factor in determining a biofuel’s environmental impact. According to MIT’s report, “Hileman and his team calculated that biofuels derived from palm oil emitted 55 times more carbon dioxide if the palm oil came from a plantation located in a converted rainforest rather than a previously cleared area.”

Is palm oil a responsible option for biofuel? Possibly sometimes, depending on where and who is producing it. But usually? Probably not. Especially if the current environmental production issues surrounding palm oil continue.

Researchers are looking into alternative biofuel sources with lower impact and requiring fewer resources and land, such as salt water crops like algae and salicornia.

There are groups and people taking action to create sustainable solutions for palm oil, which would potentially alter the commodity’s carbon footprint, but are there enough to make it a reality?

Borneo: Battle for Biodiversity

Orangutans, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, long-tailed macaques, wild oxen, the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, the Asian elephant, the Sambar deer, the clouded leopard, and the sun bear. This is not a list of exotic animals at a first rate zoo. Rather these are just some of the many species native to one equatorial island no bigger than the state of Texas: Borneo. For centuries Borneo has been an ideal habitat for geological study and an asset for the procurement of natural resources. It has survived many territorial battles and constant deforestation. Yet, it is the possibility of vast palm oil plantations on the island that truly threaten its ecological survival, and our own.
The list of beneficial attributes and uses for palm oil continues to grow, as does the list of potential environmental concerns. Considering that 80 percent of palm oil production comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, it seems inevitable that Borneo (a territory of both countries) is destined to be developed as worldwide demand increases. This possibility would not only eradicate many creatures that exist nowhere else in the world, organic palm oil waste surrounding the island could be one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
While the Malaysian and Indonesian governments both assert their commitment to preserving this truly unique place, corporate bribes and local territorial corruption have undermined well-intended efforts. The indigenous people are poor and their survival is entirely more important to them than the survival of the forest. What can be done to improve their standard of life while preserving biodiversity and the environment?
To read more about this issue and find out what is being done to address it, check out the National Geographic article about Borneo’s future.

Cargill to Review Palm Oil Suppliers' Sustainability Progress

This article discusses how one company (Cargill) is becoming more environmentally aware by shifting to palm oils that have been produced in sustainable conditions, it is important to point out that the reason why the need for a more sustainable way of cultivating palm arose lies behind a crucial fact: In the most recent years, demand for palm oil has been steadily increasing. In fact, as the article underlines, "Demand for palm oil, an ingredient in foods, shampoo, detergents, lipstick and other cosmetics, has jumped drastically in recent years, and in 2006 it accounted for 65 percent of all vegetable oil trades internationally." 65 % is not a small number, thus making it crucial that these 65% be obtained through sustainable means. It is also important to note that it is because of that increasing demand that, in an effort to meet the demand, farmers have had to rely on unsustainable means such as heavy deforestation. This fact is all the more important because it helps remove accusations that palm oil is, in itself, responsible for increased rates of deforestation. In other words, our modern society has forced palm oil to be labeled as "unsustainable." Cargill, "a private company and an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services," has pledged to have 60% of its palm oil come from places where it has been sustainably grown. This is yet just another example of a company switching to better sources for their palm oil. Notably, Nestle has also predicted to have 100% of its palm oil come from sources where it was sustainably grown. However, what I think is important to get out of this is that palm oil is an essential oil that can be grown sustainably, and has been grown unsustainably only because of society's high dependency on it.


Palm Oil, Greenpeace, FOE: The reason behind attacks on palm oil

     In a previous post, I introduced you to an article that came from an interesting source, which is the Palm Oil Truth Foundation website. This time, the article of interest discusses the real reasons behind the negative campaigns that NGOs such as GreenPeace and others have launched against palm oil. In fact, often times, the reasons stated behind why palm oil is such a "bad" oil are that it causes deforestation, can conduct to the increase of the greenhouse effect, and represents the extinction of certain species.
     However, as I mentioned in my previous post, production of palm oil only accounts for 0.22% of the agricultural area and produces 30% of the world's edible oil. Such productivity cannot be the cause of massive deforestation, thus leading to other wrongful accusations, which then begs the question of the reason behind protestations against palm oil. According to the article, competition is the driving force of those campaigns against palm oil. In fact, palm oil yields on average 4-5 metric tons per hectare, which is ten times as much as the yields of competitors such as rapeseed, sunflower, or soy. Still according to the article, the European Union may be the one behind the campaigns against palm oil, because its major oil suppliers see palm oil as a terrible threat and know that direct apprehension through means such as boycotts would be unwelcome, thus the use of environmental groups.
     Although the European Union may seem like they are not agreeing to the campaign against palm oil, yet another interesting article says the opposite. The article of March 21, 2011 entitled "EU not supporting NGOs against Palm Oil" states that there were claims that "the EU has been running afoul of the World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines. Many felt that Western edible oil producers were resorting to environmental NGOs since they cannot use trade protectionist measures."
In light of these facts, I would like that instead of branding palm oil with accusations about it being unsustainable, in your free time, dear reader, try to see what palm oil really is and what kind of impacts it truly has. After all, we consume palm oil on a daily basis...


Palm Kernel Meal: Slipping Under the Sustainable Radar

As consumer and environmental groups continue to increase awareness about the controversies involved with the production of unsustainable palm oil, some industries remain unaffected by shifts in awareness. Yesterday’s Guardian article “UK animal feed helping to destroy rainforest, study shows” points to a DEFRA study that focuses on often overlooked uses of palm oil. Of particular interest is the use of palm kernel meal for livestock feed. Producers claim that palm kernel meal is a byproduct of palm oil production and thereby not subject to RSPO scrutiny. However the study shows that 23% of palm oil imported to the UK is used in animal feed with about 80% of the oil coming from Indonesia. This issue raises the question. How can advocates for sustainable palm oil production have an impact on industries that do not come in direct contact with the consumer? The DEFRA study focuses on uses of palm oil that we may not typically think of and brings to light potential issues that we will need to face in the future as responsible consumers.