Are the Snacks We're Eating Killing Orangutans?

Orangutans are hanging on, but just barely. It’s in your peanut butter, your chocolate, your cereal, and more than half of all packaged goods found at your local supermarket.  It’s called palm oil and it's killing orangutans.

A new campaign by Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an environmental protection organization that campaigns for the world's rainforests, is shedding light on the extreme consequences caused by the production of Conflict Palm Oil, one of the leading causes of tropical deforestation in Southeast Asia.

The use of palm oil in the United States has grown nearly 500 percent over the past decade due largely in part to the fact that it lacks trans fat —an unhealthy fat which the FDA now requires companies to list on nutritional labels. Now that the FDA has proposed banning artificial trans fats in processed food due to heart disease risks, palm oil use may increase even more.

Thanks to the rise in use, palm oil plantations, mostly located in Malaysia and Indonesia, are rapidly replacing the rainforest habitat of the critically endangered orangutan, with over 90 percent of their habitat destroyed in the last 20 years. Virgin forests are being chopped down at an alarming rate and burned to grow geometric rows of trees that ultimately produce the oil.

RAN’s campaign focuses on raising public awareness in order to pressure America’s top candy and snack food companies, a group the organization has dubbed "The Snack Food 20," to take responsibility for the impact they've had on the forests and their inhabitants, as well as the reportedly widespread child labor and human rights violations indirectly resulting from the palm oil the purchase.

“In the 21st century customers don’t want to buy candy 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,” says Lindsey Allen, the executive director of Rainforest Action Network.

A RAN report from September of this year, “Conflict Palm Oil”, finds that none of the Snack Food 20 companies currently can ensure that their products do not contain palm oil connected to rainforest destruction nor to carbon pollution and human rights abuses. RAN is calling on the Snack Food 20, which includes the likes of Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods, Hershey, and Heinz, to implement responsible palm-oil policies and to engage their supply chains to transform the destructive way palm oil producers currently grow Conflict Palm Oil.

As part of the campaign, RAN released this heartbreaking video of a sign language conversation between an orphaned orangutan and a little girl as a call to action.

Orangutans are hanging on, but just barely. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only around 60,000 orangutans remain in the wilds of Sumatra and Borneo . And warns, RAN, if action is not taken quickly, orangutans—some of our closest relatives, which share 97 percent of their DNA with humans—could be extinct in our lifetime.

You can help by taking part in RAN's "Last Stand of the Orangutan" campaign and by telling the Snack Food 20 to remove 'Conflict Palm Oil' from their products.