Palm Oil Can Harm Wildlife and the Climate

The Rainforest Action Network last week called on leading United States companies to stop using palm oil in food and cosmetics products because of the environmental havoc that rapidly growing palm oil plantations are causing in Asia.

The palm oil plantations are helping drive the destruction of the last tropical forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. These forests contain great wildlife variety, support indigenous societies, and absorb greenhouse gases. Species such as orangutans and the Borneo rhinoceros risk extinction within decades.

Clearing and burning the forests release carbon into the atmosphere, and breaks down the natural cycle in which growing trees absorb carbon every year. Scientists estimate that the forests in Riau, a province of Sumatra, could absorb a year’s worth of global greenhouse gases. Surprisingly, Indonesia is now the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide. This is because the country doesn’t control land use by industry. Many United States companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, Burger King, Cargill, Dove Soap, and Procter and Gamble, are buying palm oil from Asia.

To back up its demand, the Rainforest Action Network demonstrated outside supermarkets in cities across the United States, including Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York City. The group wants supermarkets to put a sticker on products containing palm oil: “Warning! Product May Contain Rainforest Destruction.”

To see if your product contains palm oil, look at the ingredient list, or visit the new database at

This post was written by Professor Alastair Iles is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Iles studies science, technology, and environment, with a focus on how technologies – ranging from chemistry, energy systems, environmental health monitoring, to information technology – affect society and the environment. He received his PhD in Environmental Law and Policy from Harvard University, and previously studied Law at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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