We are destroying the rainforests and killing everything that lives in them.
What do lipstick, chocolate, shampoo, margarine, cookies, ice cream, and detergent have in common? Palm oil. The ingredient is commonly found in half of all packaged supermarket products, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and it’s devastating the environment.
Palm oil extraction is one of the world’s leading drivers of deforestation. But in an effort to mitigate the negative effects of palm oil extraction worldwide, the British supermarket chain Iceland has announced that it will eliminate the use of palm oil in all of its own-brand products by the end of 2018, becoming the first British supermarket to do so.
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In order to eradicate palm oil from its repertoire of ingredients, Iceland will have to reformulate 130 of its products, according to the Telegraph. The company has already replaced palm oil in about half of its own-label products across its 900 stores.
Palm oil is in such high demand across the world that top producers like Indonesia and Malaysia have taken to clearing their tropical forests, often by setting fire to them, to make room for palm oil plantations.
This deliberate deforestation destroys the habitats of countless species, including the orangutan, which has lost 80% of its habitat over the past 20 years, according to the Orangutan Project. Only 15% of native species can survive the transition from forest to palm oil plantation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The clearing of tropical forests also contributes a great deal to climate change, since these ecosystems release huge amounts of carbon when they’re destroyed. In Malaysia, one square mile of tropical forest holds roughly the same amount of carbon that an average car would release by driving from New York to San Francisco and back 76 times, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
This isn’t the first time Iceland has dedicated significant resources to making its goods more sustainable. According to the BBC, it was the first supermarket chain to ban genetically modified crops in its products, and earlier this year, it said it would seek to “eliminate or drastically reduce” plastic in its packaging by 2023.
In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme issued a report calling for the conservation community and the palm oil industry to work together to find sustainable solutions to the looming deforestation crisis. But Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker, says that the company decided to eliminate the ingredient completely because it doubts that sustainable palm oil is an attainable goal.
“We don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘sustainable’ palm oil available to retailers,” Walker said in a statement. “So we are giving consumers a choice about what they buy.”
“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil,’” he said.
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