Species Gravely Endangered by Global Trade of Commodities like Palm Oil


Written by Ashley Schaeffer

A new study led by the University of Sydney appeared in the Journal Nature recently, warning that nearly a third of animal species under threat in developing nations are linked to global trade of manufactured goods and commodities such as palm oil. As the researchers put it: “Human activities are causing the globe’s sixth major extinction event.”

As reported in Reuters, this is the first time that the important role of international trade and foreign consumption as a driver of threats to species has been comprehensively quantified.

In what has already been a devastating year for Sumatran tigers, orangutans and elephants, this study doesn’t bode well for these three species already on the IUCN’s list of critically endangered species, largely due to the encroachment of palm oil and pulp & paper plantations into their habitat:

Here we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries. We linked 25,000 Animalia species threat records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List to more than 15,000 commodities produced in 187 countries and evaluated more than 5 billion supply chains in terms of their biodiversity impacts. Excluding invasive species, we found that 30% of global species threats are due to international trade.

Take, for example, the dire situation with Sumatran elephants. In January of this year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — the world’s leading authority on conservation status of species — upgraded the status of Sumatran elephants from endangered to critically endangered. This came in response to the risk assessment after tracking the loss of 69% of the animal’s habitat over the past 25 years. With their forest homes burned, felled or converted to palm oil and pulp & paper plantations, the wild population has fallen to no more than 2,800.

To add insult to injury, earlier this month at least four elephants were poisoned and killed at a palm oil plantation in the Aceh Province of Sumatra, Indonesia. And a week later, more devastating news: half of the Congo’s forest elephants were killed in the last 5 years.

The links between biodiversity loss and the increased trafficking of commodities like palm oil through complex supply chains are more clear than ever. As a North American consumer, I am more aware than ever that my choices at the grocery store have a huge impact on the ground in the countries where commodities such as palm oil, found in half of all manufactured goods, come from. If you want to know why, check out this palm oil infographic.

According to the study, the United States, the European Union and Japan are the main destinations for commodities associated with species threats, while Indonesia and Malaysia are among the biggest exporters. It’s therefore no coincidence that nearly 90% of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where so many incredible species teeter on the brink of extinction.

To combat biodiversity loss, big commodity traders like Cargill must adopt critical supply chain safeguards immediately.

This post was originally published by Rainforest Action Network.


Related Stories:

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Scientists or Lobbyists: Who Do You Trust to Act For The Rainforest?

Obama’s Biggest Climate Decision Of The Year May Be…Palm Oil


Photo: kT LindSAy/flickr

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sandra vito
sandra vitoabout a year ago

que pena...cuando pararan??

Mark Jones
Mark Jones3 years ago

It never ceases to amaze me how many people can say that they never use/buy/have anything with palm oil in it. Wow, most of us have NO IDEA how much stuff this product is in, virtually everything from the convenience side of things, breads, fast foods, soaps (even organic products), make up, etc, etc, etc. I once found an incomplete article containing 40 pages of products with it in.
Of course, some companies make products without it in and others with it in. You are still supporting palm oil by buying the products that don't have it.
Sustainable or not, MOST people who say they don't use/buy/have actually DO use/buy/have.

Russell R.
Russell R.3 years ago

I had to give up my favorite candy bar 'ButterFingers!" thanks to Michela! arrrr!
Palm oil is used in many of Products

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V.3 years ago

We are MURDERING our planet, thus ourselves.

FYI Sorry friends,my profile is down until I get help from care2 support

Marguerite C.
Marguerite C.3 years ago

Great everyone please boycott companies who use palm oil that is deforesting the orangutans forests. I have done so for many years and also written to any company I see using palm oil to see if they use it from the orangutans forests. I have explained why I won't use their products if they use palm oil this way. I have seen a few companies come back saying they use sustainable palm oil, so the message is and will get out there with people making a stand. So go for it, we can make a difference by being united.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.3 years ago

thank you

silja salonen
silja salonen3 years ago

palm oil is many products - as aforementioned reading labels will help - time consuming
however very enlightening - so much of what we think is safe & eco friendly is not

Dijana D.
Dijana D.3 years ago

really good article. i will never buy products containing palm oil

Carrie Anne Brown

great article, thanks for sharing :)

DORIS L.3 years ago

No palm oil or similar products used in this house.