Your Supermarket is Selling Rainforest Destruction! Get the Facts On Palm Oil and the US Snack Food Industry.

Written by Vanessa Moraless

Topics: Agribusiness, Forests

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Palm oil touches our lives every time we take a trip to the supermarket. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a ubiquitous array of packaged foods, including ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups.

In the U.S. alone, palm oil imports by companies like Cargill and IOI have jumped 485% in the last decade. The dramatic and growing demand for this crop in recent decades has pushed sprawling palm oil plantations deep into some of the world’s most valuable rainforests. Palm oil production is now one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction around the globe.

What’s your connection to rainforest destruction? We put together this graphic to help explain how palm oil tied to deforestation in Indonesia has become so ubiquitous, and what you can do to help solve the problem. It’s incredibly important that we spread the word—share this graphic on Facebook, on Twitter, or download a printable PDF now!


Click image for full size.

Rainforest Destruction by Palm Oil

Nearly 90% percent of palm oil is grown in the tropical countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm oil plantations under active cultivation cover 16 million acres, an area similar in size to West Virginia. The Indonesian government has announced plans to convert approximately 44 million more acres of rainforests, an area the size of Missouri, into palm oil plantations by 2020. The UN’s Environment Program says that “98% of Indonesia’s forest may be destroyed by 2022, the lowland forest much sooner.”

The worst part: This problem is not confined to Indonesia. Rainforest destruction for palm oil expansion is spreading quickly to other valuable rainforest regions, such as Central Africa. That’s one of many reasons why it’s so important that we tackle this problem now. Below are several others, all of which we’ve collected into this “Case Against Palm Oil” factsheet (PDF).

Endangered species and the loss of biodiversity


Download the “Case Against Palm Oil” factsheet.

Indonesia’s rainforests are one of Earth’s most biologically and culturally rich landscapes. Incredibly, with just 1 percent of the Earth’s land area, Indonesia’s rainforests contain 10% of the world’s known plants, 12% of mammals and 17% of all known bird species. As recently as the 1960s, about 80% of Indonesia was forested. Sadly, Indonesia now has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with just under half of the country’s original forest cover remaining. Conservative studies suggest more than 2.4 million acres of Indonesian rainforest is cleared and lost each year.

The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are the last stand for one of humankind’s closest relatives, the orangutan. Orangutans face an extreme risk of extinction within our lifetime. Between 2004-08, the Sumatran orangutan population fell by 14% to 6,600, largely due to loss of habitat for palm oil expansion. The critically endangered Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros, both of which have populations of only hundreds left in the wild, are also urgently threatened by palm oil expansion.

Forest communities and human rights

Corporate land grabbing of Indigenous and community forests for palm oil plantations is responsible for serious human rights abuses and persistent conflicts between companies and rural communities. In Indonesia there are over 500 different language groups and between 60 and 110 million Indigenous peoples, many of whom depend on standing natural forests for their livelihoods.

The Indonesian palm oil monitoring group Sawit Watch has identified 663 ongoing land disputes between palm oil companies and rural communities. In too many cases, private armies and paramilitaries have been deployed and people have been killed. Many industrial palm oil plantations also rely on the use of forced and child labor. In Malaysia and Indonesia, child labor has been documented and allegations of modern-day slavery on plantations across Malaysia are common.

Peatlands and climate change

Peatlands are carbon-rich wet ecosystems that have sequestered billions of tons of carbon through thousands of years of accumulating leaf litter and organic material. Indonesia has the world’s highest concentration of tropical peatlands, but the scale of their destruction is so large that it is having globally significant impacts on the climate, similar in scale to the world’s biggest coal and tar sands projects.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China, with 85% of its emissions coming from rainforest and peatland destruction. Deforestation in Indonesia is responsible for some 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the combined emissions from all the millions of cars, trucks, trains, and buses in the U.S. each year combined.

The Solution: Responsible Palm Oil

Consumers are often misled by “RSPO-certified” or “Green Palm” labels. These labels from the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) still allow “certified sustainable” palm oil producers to destroy rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. Companies that produce, trade and use palm oil must go beyond these inadequate RSPO standards to be truly responsible.

Responsible palm oil is produced without contributing to rainforest or peatland destruction, species extinction, high greenhouse gas emissions or human rights violations. Snack food manufacturing companies need transparent and traceable supply chains from the plantation where the palm oil was sourced to the final product on your grocery store shelf.

What Can You Do? 

How To Identify Palm Oil Products

Palm oil is found in roughly 50% of the products in grocery stores! Below is a list of some of the types of snack food products that contain palm oil to look out for when you’re shopping:

Palm Oil Products image

Many snack foods are made using an array of ingredients derived from the African oil palm. It won’t always be obvious when palm oil is lurking under the wrapper, so to take out the guess work, we’ve made a list of the most common palm oil ingredients used in snack foods:

Palm Oil Ingredient Image


23 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Sue Nagle says:

    The destruction of the forests in order to provide palm oil has to stop……It is wrong on so many levels and only when the last natural forest habitat has gone will these greedy irresponsible companies realise what they have done……We have to save the planet and its wonderful natural flora forna, medicines and communities……Please do whatever it takes to stop this wrongdoing as soon as possible……..We don’t have to have palm oil……we do have to have the forests….thankyou for reading

  2. Lawrence Pinsky says:

    How do we get a serious boycott of Indonesia going???

  3. stupidamerkin says:

    Canola is another oil to band since it comes from the highly toxic rape seed. I don’t believe they are destroying forest land for canola since it is all GMO, but not too good for your health even though the propaganda media says other wise.
    If the consumer ever woke up to the truth and reality and true agenda of the food industry, we could change it over night.

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    How can we boycott these products? Is there a list of the worst offenders- it only counts if we hit them in the pocket book!

  5. steve chapple says:

    obviously, palm oil is bad. but what is a consumer supposed to do from this report? bring an encyclopedia to the supermarket? I would like (and RAN needs) a short targeted list of most egregious abusers of palm plantations, which companies, and most important, which snacks–by name. That way consumers can do something about it.

    Remember burger king and rainforest beef, paper sourcing and kinkos, home depot and old growth?

    so what’s the plan here, guys? it’s supposed to be rainforest ACTION not rainforest handwringing.

    and RAN is the best at boycotts ever!

  6. Grace Adams says:

    What are the chances of getting a world-wide tax on greenhouse gas emissions including from land use conversion and monitoring those emissions to collect the tax? That could go a long way toward slowing down both habitat destruction and climate change. Mostly large international corporations would collect the tax from customers and I hope use the revenue to do whatever would most cost effectively reduce their emissions to the point that paying the tax would be cheaper than any further reduction. If the tax were set at an optimal level, such a tax would just about pay for ongoing damage. Where feasible, a UN agency could capture and store carbon (maybe using Global Thermostat) using revenue from the tax.

  7. Muriel Servaege says:

    Palm oïl should be banned from our products.
    For different reasons:
    the use of palm oïl means destroying rainforests and the many species living there: orangutans, pigmy elephants, tigers, rhinoceros and many others. You should also know that oxygen id necessary to life (to YOUR life, too), the number of rainforests is becoming too small, not to say insufficient. When you destroy a rainforest, you also destroy the different species of animals living there and, once they are exctinct, it’s for ever. Now, tell me how this is possible, I mean not to have any scruple, to harm and destroy the way you do.

  8. sharon lawrence says:

    Bottom line: it is all about monopolies.

    Until the huge corporations are seriously pushed by citizens via governmental regulations , inspections and enormous violation fines, nothing will happen.

    It is our government that does not care about the citizens – beware who you vote for.

    There is a better way – small business, soil/water conservation, organic crops, worldwide pressure for preserving nature (after all, everything we ‘produce’ comes from nature), and education.

    Until then – keep up the good fight!

  9. Jo Forkish says:

    This is a worthy cause! My pantry is full of almost exclusively organic products. But I just checked and noticed a few (some Newman, some Whole Food 365 Organic, and Jovial Foods organic einkorn cookies) that contain “organic palm fruit” oil or just organic palm oil. Should I assume these are destroying the planet as well and refrain from buying them? Until I know more, I will no longer purchase ANYTHING with palm oil! Does anyone have info on organic palm oil?

  10. naomi sobo says:

    I would like to get an action going to pressure both Costco and Trader Joe’s to modify their own brands of products by using oils other than unsustainable palm oil. I can’t do it alone. I tried and only got a response saying that there needs to be more voices heard from before they will consider making any changes to their products. These companies need to hear from all of us. Please help by contacting their corporate headquarters.

  11. Ingunn sørensen says:

    we have to take care of the planet,the animals the people hwo live”s there.The forest is ouer lungs.we have to take action and stop this greedy and irresponsible companies.why cant this companies feel and tink.we have only one planet we have to take care.

  12. Billy Angus says:

    Palm oil should be done away with once and for all
    and replaced with a healthier ingredient like olive oil.

  13. Reading this just made me feel sick with worry. I plan to do everything I can and I wonder what we can do to call out Indonia’s government on their greed and destruction.

  14. Pete G says:

    Naomi, your idea sounds like a good one. Do you suppose we could get a petition started via RAN?

  15. sam Ejibu says:

    This world of our may not last long, yah, coz, much as we are struggling to keep the forests and the species therein, the political wings our governments don’t have insight over this peculiar move of protecting the rainforests and the dwellers who are the Animals. However, we are trying to sound the trumpet, if they hear, well and good but the forest/Agric. officers are the very corrupt moguls we have on earth, men without a heart to protect nature. Never give up friend with that effort, we are behind you. Thanks.

  16. The “shopping list” of foods that are made with palm oil have one thing in common: they are convenience foods. I don’t have palm oil on my shelf at home. This issue is yet another signal to change our habits that encourage unsustainable practices we can no longer afford. It’s hard to do, I struggle with it! Yet we are not that many generations away from a time when people bought ingredients and made their own meals. For me this is one way to not buy into capitalistic practices that are harming the environment and local communities.

  17. Patricia Ortiz says:

    Recently I wrote a letter to a local supermarket chain, protesting the chain’s use of palm oil in its brand of products especially snack foods. You would have thought that Dr. Oz had written the reply. Palm oil is good for you, said the author of the letter, because of this and that nutrient, and the jury is still out on the question of saturated fats and hazards to health. I think that RAN is on the right track, but I think we have to do a little more in the Dr. Oz area, which has really affected the thinking of supermarket owners and consumers. Adelante! I say. It makes me feel sick to think that while I’m here, pondering the fate of orangutans, more and more acres of rain forest are being obliterated so that greedy men can fill their wallets and bank accounts.

  18. teddybear says:

    It’s so hard to avoid buying products with Palm oil, it’s in everything!!! I don’t think this is the solution, someone will always buy these products.

    We need to lobby companies to change their ingredients or invest in truly sustainable, ethical, traceable palm oil. I agree with other posters here that not enough people are making waves over this issue. We need a global campaign, now – stop killing us withcconvenience, change your ingredients!

  19. Miša Cajnko says:

    This to me is called “conspiracy to commit mass murder”. By destroying the worlds forests and wetlands they are coneming us to death! The trees give us oxygen and use co2. The animals that live there are also a vital part of that ecosystem – spreading their seeds, fertilizing the soil, etc. Destruction of these forests for the sake of taste and money making is going to result in the destruction of our planet. And we will have noone to blame but ourselves! It starts with every us – the individuals! Stop buying and start educating!

  20. Gene Ammarell says:

    I spend a lot of time in Indonesia, and I am very concerned about the environment there: rainforest and coral reefs. Yes, industrial palm plantations and oil production are a real threat to both the environment and the people who are trying to make a living off of the land. But PLEASE don’t persecute the small farmers who produce sustainable and organic palm oil. Broad boycotts of “Indonesia” or “palm oil” do more to hurt honest, hard-working farmers and entrepreneurs than they do the corporations. Organic and fair trade is almost always the way to go!

  21. Christine Stewart says:

    In the United States, foods that contain palm oil WILL state “palm oil” or “palm kernel oil” in the ingredient list- it won’t be able to hide under “vegetable oil.” The worst foods are Nutella and other chocolate flavored nut spreads, “natural NO-STIR” peanut butter, cheap white chocolate, “yogurt” covered snacks, many margarines and microwave popcorn, International Delight coffee creamer, and some fried snacks (most US potato and corn chips are not fried in palm oil). Substitutions: natural nut butters that need to be stirred, Liquid Coffee-mate creamer, “real” chocolate, air popped popcorn, olive oil or butter instead of margarine. If we all stop buying products with palm oil, there will no longer be profit in destroying rain forests for oil palm plantations!

  22. naomi sobo says:

    Gene is right. There is such a thing as certified sustainable palm oil. There is even a logo that looks like a little palm tree which would appear on the label of the product. It is the huge monoculture palm plantations that are so destructive of habitat for endangered species and the local villagers. I do want to get a petition going and am trying to find out how to do it. Starting with Trader Joe’s and Costco seem a good way to go because the both sell products under their own brand labels and can dictate what goes into their products.

  23. Dee says:

    Joiningngroups like AVAAZ is one of the most effective ways of helping make change. 23 million people united together to do what it takes …. Check them out for putting your name on petitions that THEY take wherever they are needed and you can use it to start a movement or petition as well .. The PALM oil situation would fit they criteria,

    We are all waking up ! And it is now POWER TO THE PEOPLE.


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