Group says Halloween candy may be killing orangutans

An ingredient in Halloween candy destroys rainforests, endangers threatened species and hides a host of human rights violations. Photo: Sumatran Orangutan (wwf.org, public)

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2013 — A new campaign by the Rainforest Action Network reveals that the production of an ingredient in Halloween candy, palm oil, destroys rainforests, endangers threatened species, contributes to climate change, and hides a host of human rights violations.

The group is imploring “The Snack Food 20,” America’s top candy makers, to implement responsible palm oil policies and mitigate the unacceptable consequences of its production.

“Our ultimate goal with this campaign is to convince The Snack Food 20 group of companies to do their part to transform the destructive way Conflict Palm Oil is currently grown. We expect these brands that most us buy everyday at the grocery store to guarantee their products are no longer connected to orangutan extinction and human rights violations.” Laurel Sutherlin, spokesman for Rainforest Action Network, told the Communities.

Rainforest Action Network identifies the “Snack Food 20” as 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.; Nestle. S.A.; Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd.; PepsiCo, Inc.; The Hershey Company; The J.M. Smucker Company; Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd.; and Unilever.

To further promote the campaign, Rainforest Action Network released a video of a sign language conversation between an orphaned orangutan and a little girl. The video has generated enormous support, prompting tens of thousands letters and phone calls to food producers protesting the use of conflict palm oil.  

The Network also released a new report exposing the environmental and human rights problems caused by palm oil production. The report, Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations, alleges that the American candy makers have the ability to verify that the ingredients in their products are not conflict palm oil, but that they have yet to implement those checks.


SEE RELATED: Palm oil: The hidden cost of processed food


A recent Communities article further explains the hidden cost of palm oil.

Derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, palm oil is used in food and in manufacturing cosmetics. Oil palm grows in the tropical regions in Colombia, Ghana, New Guinea, Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil produced in Indonesia and Malaysia accounts for 90 percent of global palm oil production, making palm oil plantations the main driver of deforestation in these areas. The conversion from primary forests to palm oil plantations has a devastating effect on communities and the environment.

In 2006, there were 11 million hectares of palm oil on the planet, six million in Indonesia, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). By 2011, Indonesia had nine million hectares of palm oil plantations, with a whopping 26 million projected for 2025, according to Rainforest Rescue.

This rapid deforestation affects hundreds of species, including threatened and endangered species like the Asian elephant, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, tapir, sun bear and the orangutan, all of which are rapidly losing their habitat and numbers.

Most of these large animals, like the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros cannot live on land that has been converted to palm oil production. This is having a devastating impact on their population. The Sumatran tiger, for example, is listed as critically endangered, with less than 500 left in the wild, according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

Others like the elephant and orangutan can live in palm oil plantations, but are considered pests by farmers because they eat palm fronds and nuts. There are an estimated 1,500 pygmy elephants left living in Borneo, for instance.

Wild orangutan populations have decreased by 50 percent in the past decade and are in danger of becoming extinct within our lifetime, according to the Orangutan Project. Their habitat has been reduced by as much as 80 percent, according to RAN. This devastating loss of population is largely attributed to palm oil plantations, which pose several threats to these and other animals.

The clearing of thousands of acres of jungle every day has shrunk the orangutan’s habitat, who, like the oil palm, thrive in fertile lowlands close to water. Often, the land is cleared by fire, and many orangutans—because they are slow moving—get trapped in the blaze. Additionally, orangutans are killed by farmers who consider them pests. Finally, palm oil plantations provide easier access to hunters and exotic pet traders.

With a long history of human rights violations, palm oil production has been associated with community conflict, illegal taking of community lands and destruction of traditional ways of life for several indigenous and jungle-dependent communities. In Indonesia, the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations endangers the lives and tramples the rights of millions of communities who rely on the jungle for their survival, livelihood, and cultural identity.

Child labor has been widely documented in many palm oil plantations, especially in Indonesia. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, palm oil is among the industries most known for forced and child labor. RAN estimates that between 72,000 and 200,000 children are employed on palm oil plantations.

It is difficult to avoid palm oil and products containing it because it is not usually listed as an ingredient. The best way to avoid palm oil is to avoid commercially fried and baked foods as well as highly processed foods.  

• Laura Sessana contributed to this report.


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Lisa M. Ruth

Lisa M. Ruth started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service and analysis.  After leaving the government, she joined a private intelligence firm in South Florida as President, where she oversaw all research, analysis and reporting.

Lisa joined CDN as a journalist in 2009 and writes extensively on intelligence, world affairs, and breaking news. She also provides investigative reporting and news analysis. Lisa continues to write both for her own columns and as a guest writer on a wide variety of subjects, and is now Executive Editor for CDN and edits the Global, Family and Health sections.  She is also a regular contributor to Newsmax and other publications.

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