In rainforests half a world away from the United States, orangutans are making their last stand for survival. Scientists warn that these gentle and intelligent animals, among humankind’s closest kin, could become extinct within our lifetime if their rainforest homes continue to be destroyed for palm oil plantations. But the primary threat pushing them toward extinction lies much closer to home than you may think: you’ll find it hidden in the snack food aisle of your local grocery store, and likely in your own shopping cart.
Read the full report here.
When you eat food that comes out of a bag, a box, or a package of any kind, chances are you are eating palm oil. It is added to chocolate, turned into fry oil, and snuck into snacks of all sorts—in fact, it can now be found in roughly half the packaged food products sold in grocery stores. This palm oil comes at a terrible human and environmental cost. Skyrocketing demand has driven massive, industrial palm oil plantations into millions of acres of formerly lush rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia, worsening climate change and causing widespread human rights violations.
This report announces the launch of an ambitious new national campaign by Rainforest Action Network (RAN ) called “The Last Stand of the Orangutan.” This campaign exposes the dark secret of conflict palm oil in the U.S. snack food industry and calls on companies to adopt responsible palm oil policies and commit to only using traceable palm oil that is free of deforestation, expansion on carbon-rich peatlands and human rights violations.
RAN ’s carefully selected “Snack Food 20” group of companies are named here publicly for the first time. This report assesses the palm oil purchasing commitments and policies of each of these influential corporations and spells out the critical role they have in reforming the destructive practices widely associated with palm oil production.
The “Snack Food 20” group of companies—Campbell Soup Company; ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; Grupo Bimbo; Hillshire Brands Company; H.J. Heinz Company; Hormel Foods Corporation; Kellogg Company; Kraft Food Group, Inc.; Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Corp.; Mars Inc.; Mondelez International, Inc.; Nestlé S.A.; Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd.; PepsiCo, Inc.; The Hershey Company; The J.M. Smucker Company; Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd.; and Unilever—manufacture a wide range of popular snack foods in the United States and abroad that contain conflict palm oil.
While some companies are beginning to take steps to address their palm oil problem, none have yet adopted and fully implemented adequate safeguards to eliminate conflict palm oil from entering their supply chains and contaminating their products. These big, global food companies have the power, through their supply chains, to drive a transformation in the way palm oil is now commonly produced. Increased consumer and citizen pressure on these companies is a key ingredient for success.
Working together with our families, friends, and allies, we will hold these companies to account and push them to eliminate conflict palm oil from their products. We will work with them to adopt and implement responsible palm oil procurement policies that ensure the palm oil they buy is not associated with deforestation, child or forced labor, plantation expansion on carbon-rich peatlands, or violations of forest-dependent communities’ rights.
The fate of the orangutan, forest peoples, and some of the world’s most rich and important rainforests hang in the balance.
Indonesia’s rainforests are home to some of the highest levels of biological diversity in the world. Many sources credit Indonesia as the most species rich country on earth. Spread over 18,000 islands, Indonesia contains the world’s third largest area of rainforest after the Amazon and Africa’s Congo Basin.
Tragically, the rapid loss of Indonesia’s biologically wealthy rainforests is driving in-numerable species to the very edge of survival. Only decisive action and a paradigm shift towards meaningful conservation commitments by industry and the Indonesian government will prevent a catastrophic epidemic of extinctions in the coming decades. RAN’s strategic involvement in Indonesian forest issues is aimed at ushering in just such a sea change in the status quo. Please join us to ensure our work is not too late.
Incredibly, with just 1 percent of the Earth’s land area, Indonesia’s rainforests contain 10 percent of the world’s known plant species, 12 percent of mammal species - including endangered orangutans and critically endangered Sumatran tigers and rhinos - and 17 percent of all known bird species.
And there is still much to be discovered. The Indonesian Ministry of the Environment estimates that more than half of Indonesia’s species are still unrecorded.
Indonesia has more species of mammal than any other nation, an incredible 515 species by most counts. Unfortunately, Indonesia also leads the world in the number of threatened mammals at 135 species, which is nearly a third of all of its native mammals.
Many of Indonesia’s most iconic and well known species are also its most endangered. With the extinctions of the Balinese and Javan tigers, the Sumatran tiger is the only surviving species of Indonesian tiger. Its wild population is believed to total less than 500 animals, with an estimated 150 breeding pairs. One of the most immediate threats to their survival comes from the destruction of critical habitat by the pulp and paper industry as it converts high value rainforests into monoculture pulp plantations.
Tiger scientists say that existing protected forest areas in Sumatra are not sufficient to maintain viable tiger populations. Each breeding pair of tigers requires a large home range so it is essential that remaining areas of natural rainforest outside of protected areas be conserved if these majestic animals are to survive.
The Red Ape, the orangutan (literally ‘people of the forest’) continues to suffer precipitous declines from deforestation. Sumatran orangutans are designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, with a population of just a few thousand, while the Borneo orangutan is considered Threatened. The UN calls the current status of the remaining orangutans “a conservation emergency.” Habitat destruction caused by the massive expansion of palm oil plantations is a primary reason orangutans are facing the threat of extinction.
Right: One of the world’s last remaining Sumatran tigers. Photo: Mike Griffiths/RAN
The island of Java is home to a small population of Javan Rhinoceros, the rarest of all rhinoceros, while Sumatra’s swamp forests protect the last Sumatran Rhinoceros, second rarest of the rhinos. The Sumatran elephant, also listed as Endangered, is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.
Above: Sumatran elephants, a subspecies of the wider ranging Asian elephant, are endangered by habitat loss caused by the palm oil and pulp and paper industries. Photo: David Gilbert
Indonesia has more than twice the number of breeding birds as North America in only one-fifth the land area. There are a staggering 1539 bird species known – with 430 species found nowhere else. Many of these birds live on only one or two small islands. One hundred fourteen species are considered extremely threatened, the largest number of threatened birds of any country in the world.
One thousand species of reptiles and amphibians live in Indonesia, a full 10 percent of the world's herpetofauna. Twenty-eight species of reptiles are considered threatened by the 2000 IUCN Red List Species. Fully half of all the world's fish species can be found in Indonesia’s marine and freshwater systems.
Indonesia’s forests have a diversity of plants equaled only in Amazonia. Over 25,000 species of flowering plants have been described within the country, with 2000 species of orchids growing on Borneo alone. About 40 percent of these plants exist nowhere else on earth.