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The Green Life: What're the Least Bad Palm Oil Products?

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March 16, 2014

What're the Least Bad Palm Oil Products?

Palm oil plantations often require deforestationThanks to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greens now have a resource for avoiding foods and products that contribute to palm oil-related deforestation. The UCS' report, whimsically titled "Donuts, Deoderant, Deforestation," scores the palm oil sourcing of a few dozen companies in categories like "peat-free," "transparency," and "traceability," to name a few.

The UCS study, released this month, argues that brands like Kraft, Starbucks, Wendy's, and Dunkin' Donuts show "no commitment" in ensuring that the palm oil they use is deforestation-free. The UCS does however give credit to other brands like Nestlé, L'Oréal, and Subway for their efforts to prevent such deforestation. "Multinational companies really hold the world's tropical rain forests in their hands," says Calen May-Tobin, the UCS's lead analyst for their Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

Palm oil is used in thousands of foods and personal care products that Americans consume on a daily basis. Unfortunately, palm oil production often requires mass deforestation and peatland clearing. Indonesia and Malaysia are the nations most directly hit by this wave of palm oil deforestation. Their forests are home to elephants, tigers, and Sumatran orangutans, all of which are critically endangered. Many of these forests grow from tropical peat soils that contain massive carbon reserves. When the trees are cleared, that carbon is released, exacerbating climate change.

While the UCS's list provides a damning indictment of many American brands, it's also a useful tool for choosing between products. May-Tobin hopes the UCS scorecard will encourage environmentally irresponsible companies to change their course and practice the ethical messages they spout. "These corporations should live up to the their 'wholesome' branding by demanding sustainable palm oil. To do so would save tropical forests, rich with biodiversity, and help limit the severity of climate change."

--Image by iStockphoto/prill

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. he recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.


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