Michelle Obama: Girl Scouts USA Needs a Palm Oil Intervention

Written by Ashley Schaeffer

Topics: Agribusiness

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Madi and Rhiannon at the White House. Photo: Hillary Lehr/RAN

Madi and Rhiannon at the White House. Photo: Hillary Lehr/RAN

Today we launched a public petition asking Michelle Obama to use her influence as Honorary National President of Girl Scouts USA to make Girl Scout cookies rainforest friendly by next cookie season.

For Earth Day 2010, Michelle Obama told a group of children who spent the day at the White house that the Obama household is “trying to save the tigers,” a request her daughter Malia frequently makes of her father. The critically endangered Sumatran tiger is at risk of extinction, and logging to grow the palm oil found in nearly every Girl Scout cookie is largely to blame. The connections between industrial-scale palm oil plantations, tiger extinction and Girl Scout cookies are clear.

For Earth Day 2011, we’re asking everyone who has a vested interest in empowering young women and/or saving endangered wildlife to help us turn up the volume on our message to Girl Scouts USA by asking Michelle Obama to demand Girl Scout cookies be rainforest safe.

In the Open Letter we sent to the First Lady, we encourage her to speak with the leadership of Girl Scouts USA and encourage them to celebrate their 100 Year Anniversary by respecting these young leaders they have helped foster by agreeing to meet with Madi and Rhiannon by World Environment Day on June 5, 2011.

It’s been just over a month since Girl Scouts Madi & Rhiannon made their first appearance on the Understory to ask for your help in their campaign to remove palm oil linked with orangutan extinction from Girl Scout cookies. And guess what? With the help of Change.org, we’ve generated 70,000 letters of concern to Girl Scouts USA CEO Kathy Cloninger!

As you can imagine, after receiving so many requests for rainforest-safe Girl Scout cookies, Girl Scouts USA has responded to public concerns about the devastating impact of palm oil in their most recent customer service email response. Though the commitments made by the Girl Scout cookie bakers on palm oil are a good start, they fall short of being enough to keep rainforests standing and to protect orangutans from extinction. RAN’s responses to GSUSA’s specific statements are included in bold:

1. “To continue to search for viable alternatives.” RAN has researched viable alternatives as well and we would be happy to discuss our findings with Girl Scouts USA.

2. “To exclusively purchasing sustainable palm oil once a segregated palm oil supply is available that is financially and logistically feasible” This is the start of a strong policy, but it does not make a time bound commitment, which is a crucial element of a meaningful policy. It also takes a passive stance that places the burden elsewhere, whereas GSUSA has the ability to actively drive the demand for segregated palm oil, instead of just waiting for it to arrive on the market. We would like GSUSA to make a commitment by next cookie season to either remove palm oil from Girl Scout cookies or to source 100% segregated, RSPO-certified palm oil and palm kernel oil. Market-driven policies often move demand faster than supply-chain improvements alone.

3. “Effective in 2011, Little Brownie Bakers and its parent company, Kellogg, have committed to covering 100% of their global palm oil use through the purchase of GreenPalm certificates.” GreenPalm certificatess are a step in the right direction, but they are not a solution to the crisis caused by palm oil, and this commitment does not include GSUSA’s other Girl Scout cookie baker, ABC/Interbake.

4.    “GSUSA’s licensed cookie bakers tell us it continues to be necessary to use palm oil in specific cookies to ensure their shelf life, quality, and to serve as a healthful alternative to trans-fats. Many top bakers have tried to stop using palm oil, but without it, their products do not meet quality and production standards.” This is a disingenuous statement from the bakers that contradicts what our research has revealed. Viable alternatives to palm oil that do not unduly sacrifice quality and production standards do in fact exist and GSUSA’s bakers will find and use them if instructed to do so by their customers.

5. “To use as little as possible, and only in conjunction with recipes where the use of a tropical oil is required to ensure the taste and the quality of the cookie.” When it comes to extinction, there is no such thing as “as little as possible.” The fact remains that palm oil is currently a key ingredient in 15 of the 16 flavors of Girl Scout Cookies.

6. “To exclusively source palm oil from members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).” RSPO membership alone means next to nothing. A commitment to the exclusive use of RSPO certified “sustainable” palm oil and palm kernel oil would represent a major step away from rainforest destruction.

While still refusing to meet with Madi & Rhiannon, GSUSA’s spokeswoman recently stated: “We all want the girls to stand up for what they believe in. They’re trying to make changes, and we applaud them for that.”

But as we said in our last blog post, applauding won’t protect rainforests, CEO Cloninger. And that’s why we’re pushing for an intervention by Girl Scouts USA Honorary President Michelle Obama.


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