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Oct 212009
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We had a chocolate attack at a store the other day, so we schlepped over to the cookie aisle seeking something sweet and crunchy.

Palm oil products (Image: PalmOilAction.org.)

Palm oil products (Image: PalmOilAction.org.)

We started checking labels for palm oil. About six brands and 10 varieties later, I reached for Belgian chocolate-covered biscuits. Bingo! They were made with all the stuff that cookies used to be made with, like sugar, milk, cocoa and butter. Bless Belgium and its culture of fine chocolate. No palm oil. Of course, these delicacies were imported, giving my green, inner ethical self some pangs. Chocolate won. I bought them and justified it as special treat (in celebration of Monday) and further rationalized that by weight it wouldn’t have been so difficult to ship them over here to the U.S.

Sadly, this mental turmoil that clutters up my food shopping these days (have I mentioned that the family members ridicule and shun me?) is pretty typical. There are so many labels to watch for and prioritize: Fair Trade, non-GMO, organic, local. There’s excessive packaging to watch out for, and growth hormones and hidden sugar (like Aspartame, a true faux in my book). Despite what Kermit says, it ain’t easy.

Now, along with my list of recycled paper products and non-threatened sea food, I apparently need one listing foods with palm oil, or palmate etc. This cheap fat is responsible for thousands of acres of destroyed rainforests, which is contributing to global warming through forest burning and the displacement of native habitat in Southeast Asia. (We’ve written a bit about this before.)

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is running a comprehensive campaign to try to stop the destruction, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and threatens the survival of orangutans. And, indeed, they’ve published a list. It’s called the Dirty 19, and enumerates the companies with the most products containing palm oil.

For those who want to get active in saving the orangutan and the rain forests, they’ve set up an impish stickering campaign in which grassroots activists slap  warning stickers on products that list palm oil as an ingredient. The network reports that most people won’t get in much trouble if they pursue this, but advises them to sticker at a store they don’t frequent in case they run into an unhappy store manager.

The “legality” of stickering, RAN reports, depends on where you sticker a product and how easy the label is to peel off. “We’ve been advised by our lawyers that it’s no big deal,” the RAN website notes.

RAN hopes their efforts to shine a light on the problem will help persuade Cargill, ADM and Bunge to end the destruction of the rainforests in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Want to know more about the true price of your oreo habit? See this info page on the RAN website.

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