Your Oreos Are Helping to Kill Chimpanzees

Palm oil – a seemingly innocuous ingredient in many packaged foods and cosmetics – is decimating chimpanzee populations.

Oreos are actually far from the only food that contain palm oil, and chimpanzees aren’t the only animals being killed in the name of palm oil production. Let’s take a look at how palm oil is killing chimps and other animals and how to get palm oil out of your kitchen.

Palm Oil Production

Palm oil is exactly what you’d guess: oil derived from part of the palm tree. You will see it on packages listed as palm oil, palm fruit oil, palmitate, palmitoyl or even sustainably harvested palm oil. No matter how you phrase it, it’s bad news.

The palm trees that produce palm oil grow best in areas that used to be covered by rainforest. These fragile ecosystems have been slashed and burned to make way for palm plantations. Chimpanzees, orangutans, tigers, birds and people are losing their homes so that we can make chips, cookies, margarine and cosmetics.

What happens when we raze these areas? The animals and people just move elsewhere, right?

The trouble is, our taste for palm oil has damaged so much of the rainforest that these beautiful animals and indigenous people have nowhere left to go. Orangutans in Borneo are starving to death, because their habitats have been destroyed by so-called “sustainable” palm oil operations.  Chimpanzees in Cameroon look like they will be the next victims of our processed food industry.

Pass the Oreos! Which — you guessed it — contain palm oil.

an arial view of palm oil deforestation in Indonesia

an arial view of palm oil deforestation in Indonesia

Avoiding Palm Oil

The easiest way to protect these endangered species is to avoid palm oil, but once you start reading ingredients lists that task starts to seem pretty daunting. Y’all: palm oil is in everything.

It’s in salty snacks like chips and crackers. It’s in your Girl Scout Cookies. It’s in vegan butter. It’s in many cosmetics. It’s also not just in regular packaged food. Those “natural” brands of chips, cookies, and crackers can also contain palm oil. I did a little bit of pantry research and discovered palm oil in my box of Back to Nature Peanut Butter Creme Cookies.

The best way to avoid palm oil is to avoid processed food wherever you can and carefully read the ingredients when you’re shopping for cosmetics or any packaged food.

(Take action: Tell the FDA to enforce clearer labels for palm oil!)

What About Sustainable Palm Oil?

In the 2010 video at the top of this page, the World Wildlife Fund mentions that there are sustainable palm oil operations out there. Processed food-makers can use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), but how trustworthy is that certification?

The CSPO label comes from a group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Remember those starving orangutans in Borneo? The company that destroyed their homes was producing RSPO-certified palm oil.

The problem is that it’s just so hard to police. Palm oil production often takes place in remote areas, and checking up on every producer is difficult and expensive. That means that much CSPO may be produced to minimize habitat loss, but you can’t be 100 percent certain. Whether you trust that label or not is really up to you.

Image Credit: Palm Oil Deforestation photo by Glenn Hurowitz

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288 comments

Neville B.
Neville B.5 months ago

PS - That's not an ad for 'sustainable' - just more info to decide what you buy.

Neville B.
Neville B.5 months ago

Cheyenne Mountain have an app for sustainable palm oil (it's a start) products (and possibly a print-out - I didn't look, sorry) here:

http://www.cmzoo.org/index.php/conservation-matters/palm-oil-crisis/

There're downloads for Android and Apple.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown10 months ago

thanks for sharing :)

Fi T.
Fi T.about a year ago

Besides treating yourself with something, think if that hurts others

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson1 years ago

Humans should not consume Palm oil. It isn't good for your health!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.1 years ago

Dang, I did not know this about Oreos. I just ate a few the other day. Now I really feel bad. Well, no more Oreos.

federico bortoletto

Grazie.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla1 years ago

I don´t eat cookies or anything that contains palm oil, all people should have a list :)

Wong Jowo
Wong Jowo1 years ago

You guys read the breaking news today?
World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says CO2 exceeding 400 parts per million in the northern hemisphere - for the first time in human history.

We've been fighting the wrong battles, our focus should be the 'northern hemisphere' not 'tropical regions'.

Hope it is not too late, we owe it to our kids.

Hany S.
Hany S.1 years ago

Mia Johnson was right, palm oil derivative 'palmitate' can also be found even in baby's milk formula. I supposed it's for the Vitamin A replacement and Antioxidant (Ascorbyl Palmitate). Until alternative is found, supporting sustainable & responsible palm oil is the most sensible thing to do.