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Do Girl Scout Cookies Harm the Environment? Renegade Scouts Fight Against Palm Oil Ingredient

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Girl Scout cookie lovers, beware. Because of palm oil, a key ingredient, those delicious and addictive treats may not be as innocent as they seem. Not only is the ingredient linked to child labor in Indonesia, but it also allegedly contributes to rainforest deforestation. But now two renegade girl scouts are lobbying the Girl Scouts of America to remove the ingredient from the cookies.

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, who are high school sophomores, stopped selling Girl Scout cookies in 2007 after they began working on a public service project to bring attention to the plight of endangered orangutans in Borneo. To ramp up their efforts, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, natives of Ann Arbor, Michigan, have teamed up with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to make the change a reality. So far, RAN set up an online form for those interested to send a letter to Girl Scouts of America CEO Kathy Cloninger to pressure the organization to stop using palm oil. RAN also helped Tomtishen and Vorva make a merit badge available to Girl Scouts across the nation. It's not endorsed by the Girl Scouts of America, Tomtishen said. The RAN partnership comes after a meeting between the two scouts and the organization, which resulted in no action.

(More on TIME.com: See recipes for our favorite Girl Scout cookies)

Although Cloninger has yet to comment, Michelle Tomkins, a spokesperson from the organization, has said its hands are tied. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring unhealthy trans-fats to be listed on the Nutrition Facts labels on food products. Two official Girl Scouts bakers worked to make its cookies healthier in light of the changes, said Tomkins. “In order to rid cookies of trans-fats, you had to find another alternative.” That alternative is palm oil. And despite Tomkins admiration for the girls' efforts, she said the two bakers the organization uses have no plans to change the recipe. But Tompkins didn't rule out a possible switch in ingredients. “We have little say if not no say in the recipes used by the bakers.”

Though the organization is a not for profit, it is no stranger to enterprising and savvy business strategy. Girl Scouts first began selling cookies door to door in 1917, and now turn over millions of dollars in profits each year. At $714 million in sales, the Girl Scout Cookie program doesn't mess around. Recent changes to its cookie sales strategy include gradually switching to less packaging and also cutting back the number of cookies on offer from 12 to six flavors.

Time Newsfeed
Tara Kelly
Thursday, May 5, 2011

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