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September 21, 2023

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Human use of oil destroys habitats; generates controversy

It’s in half your food, shampoo and soap, and environmental groups say it’s responsible for widespread deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia and other rainforests worldwide.

Palm oil, an edible vegetable oil taken from oil palms, has been generating controversy. Some say the harvesting of the oil is causing several species to be pushed to the brink of extinction due to the destruction of their habitats, including the sumatran orangutan and sumatran tiger.

Companies that are often criticized for the purchase of “unethical” oil include personal goods companies like Proctor & Gamble, as well as food companies.

Proctor & Gamble is the most recent company to announce a commitment to practicing more sustainable and transparent methods when buying their palm oil. They join a list that includes Mars, Inc. and Kellogg.

“The company is working with suppliers, industry peers, NGOs, academic experts and other stakeholders to promote consistent industry standards and practices for sustainable palm oil sourcing,” according to a press release from P&G.

Mars, Inc was not available for comment, and Proctor and Gamble could not be reached for comment.

Joao Talotti, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace, an environmental organization, said these organizations are working to change the way the oil is harvested. Greenpeace claims the status quo of the industry includes several acres of rainforests being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

“We’re not against palm oil, and we think it’s important for a country’s development,” Talotti said, before explaining Greenpeace’s stance and efforts in regards to the issue.

Greenpeace, Talotti said, is focusing its efforts on palm oil harvested from Indonesia, which in 2013 was the leading exporter of the product, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Organizations who share Greenpeace’s concerns are working toward a system that will allow increased transparency about where companies purchase their palm oil.

Talotti said by focusing on the private sector, governments will be more inclined to legislate in a more sustainable way. Greenpeace, he said, is working directly with both the corporations and governments, but changes in the private sector results in changes in government policy as well.

“It’s a lot faster to change the private sector than governments,” Talotti said. “Especially when the government is a new democracy, as is the case with Indonesia.”

He said organizations like Greenpeace are making progress.

“Change is happening on a global scale,” he said. “We expect this change to drive governments to enact stronger policies [regarding palm oil].”

Rainforest Action Network claims palm oil is a large contributor to 2.4 million acres of forest that is cleared in Malaysia per year, as well as a 14 percent drop in the population of the sumatran orangutan between 2004 and 2008.

Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Federation and Rainforest Action Network all have pages on their websites detailing their stances on palm oil.

Freshman Rachel Croswell expressed an interest in researching the issue, though said switching to sustainable practices would be a good idea regardless.

“If it would help to decrease [deforestation], it would be a good transition,” she said.

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