Stop! Is your morning toast destroying the rainforest? If your ready-prepared loaf of bread or margarine spread contains palm oil – the answer is yes.
The Artificial Rainforest
At 25 million tonnes a year, Indonesia is the largest supplier of palm oil. In order for the country to produce such enormous amounts of palm oil, scores of rainforest have been clear-cut to make way for ever-expanding crops of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), American oil palm (Elaeis oleifera), and the Maripa palm (Attalea maripa). In a 2006 census, palm oil plantations were responsible for clearing more than 6 million hectares of Indonesian rainforest; turning a once vibrant source of oxygen for the Earth, into an iron lung. Each year the contributing devastation of Indonesia's deforestation is so significant that the country moved into the number 3 spot for largest greenhouse gas emitters, following China and the United States. This not only adds to climate chaos, it strips the land of nutrients, which wipes out plant diversity necessary to support an abundance of life forms: from lifesaving microorganisms to endangered wildlife.
The Displaced Inhabitants
The orangutan stands as the poster child to the negative effects of deforestation, and with good reason. The clear-cutting, forest fires, food depletion, and poaching are wiping out population numbers faster than their reproduction rates can withstand. Orangutans are a rare species found only in Indonesia and Malaysia. Like humans being the last of the Homo genus, orangutans are the only surviving Ponginae lineage of our shared Hominidae family. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has rated the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) as critically endangered and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) as endangered, with humans cited as the direct cause of their rapid extinction. Orangutans are the most arboreal of all the great apes, which means they live much of their lives in rainforest trees.
The Tiniest Hope
With as tragic a picture of the orangutans' quest for survival paints, humans should also become aware that the more palm oil plantations that pop up the fewer cures for severe illnesses emerge. Every time a rainforest is clear-cut, thousands of unknown plants and microorganisms are wiped out of existence. Consider this: If humans always took such an aggressive stance towards profit above all things, we would not have any treatments for cancer, and such a diagnosis would have meant certain death rather than a 70 percent chance of survival. Think about how many people you know in your own life that survived cancer. Every one of them is alive because of the rainforest.
The Corporate Imbalance
The Oil Palm Industry reports record-breaking demand. Mega international food conglomerations, like Unilever, are smiling all the way to the bank, as they increase the amount of palm oil added to their products. The corporation reports an average daily consumption rate of their palm oil products to be in excess of 2 billion people.
Consumers have the power to stop rainforest devastation by simply refusing to purchase any palm oil products. The extent of the effort needed is to read the label and reject any product that lists palm oil as part of the contents. This simple act can help to restore orangutan numbers, help scores of scientists catalog thousands of unknown plants, insects, and microorganisms while continuing to provide effective treatments for otherwise fatal illnesses.
Some alternative spreads to consider other than margarine are apple butter or maple butter. For cooking, consider using coconut oil as a margarine substitution. Remember, there is a lot more than just a margarine spread going onto that piece of toast.
For those interested, sign the Demand Ethical Practices petition.
This is Deb Duxbury, for Animal Life, reminding you to please spay or neuter your pet.