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Ordinary food shoppers are unwittingly causing the extinction of rain forest animals such as the much-loved Orangutan.
One in ten of supermarket products contain palm oil; from foods like bread, crisps and chocolate to cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and toothpaste. Most mass-produced palm oil is responsible for the accelerated destruction of precious rain forests in Malaysia and Indonesia, home to the Orangutan. Around 5,000 of these intelligent apes are being driven from their unique habitats in Borneo and Sumatra each year, as loggers make way for palm oil plantations.
Orangutans and other animals wander dazed and confused across the tree-flattened areas, while plantation workers butcher the frightened apes with machetes or even burn and bury them alive. Hundreds of orphaned babies are also left alone to die or sold in the illegal pet trade.
At the current rate of destruction, it's expected that orangutans could be extinct in ten years, along with their forest habitat.
Friends of the Earth have recently reported on the current state of corruption and political greed existing in Borneo. Researchers say that forest fires, deliberately set by palm oil companies since 1998, have now killed around one third of the orangutan population.
Friends of the Earth also say that the Indonesian Government is planning to convert a significant area of Tanjung Puting National Park, the world's most famous protected area for orangutan, into an oil-palm plantation.
Animal Welfare group, Ape Alliance, represent organizations such as the Borneo Survival Foundation and Safe Palm Oil. They have websites that are appealing to the public to write to supermarket CEO's, asking them to stop palm oil sourced from environmentally destructive plantations being used in the products they sell. Safe Palm Oil also has a sample letter for consumers to download and post or hand in to shops, supermarkets and manufacturers.
The animal and environmental website VeggieGlobal also has a support page that draws together web linked information to help consumers take urgent action. A spokesperson for VeggieGlobal says, "Palm oil is used in most savoury snack foods and chocolate, which should give the consumer an idea of how serious the problem is, since millions of packets of crisp type snacks and sweets are eaten daily."
In the 1980's a welfare campaign forced many food manufacturers to change their sourcing of tuna fish, because careless fishing methods were also killing dolphins that got caught up in nets.
VeggieGlobal says, "If you were making conscious efforts to buy "dolphin friendly" tins of tuna, then it's now time to think twice before buying foods or cosmetics containing palm oil which could be destroying entire forests and all the animals living there. In the end, it's the consumer who carries the responsibility as well as the power to stop such atrocities. If you ignore an ethical issue as important as this, it means that unscrupulous plantation growers will continue to provide manufacturers with ingredients that destroy habitats on a global scale. So ask questions. When the ingredients on a product include vegetable oil, it may be that that this includes palm oil, so find out where it comes from. A shop manager will probably have no idea, but persist and make sure your question is logged. And if you don't get a satisfactory answer, don't buy the product."
VeggieGlobal also adds, "It's just like the Brazilian rain forest destruction, where areas the size of Portugal are unnecessarily lost each year to soy plantations. The rich growers couldn't care less about the environmental costs, and the paradox is that ordinary farm land is available to produce palm oil and soy beans. It's purely a question of high yield profits, because growers pay much less for felled forest land, or in many cases the forest is illegally logged and claimed for plantation. These countries clearly need to provide strong incentives to steer growers towards non-destructive means. Until then these practices will continue as long as manufacturers and consumers create the demand for unethically sourced ingredients."
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