There are many species of palm, however, when greenies talk about 'palm oil' they're referring to the oil derived from the fruit of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).
Demand for palm oil in the U.S. has tripled in the last five years, pushing palm oil cultivation into the rainforests and making this crop one of the key causes of global rainforest destruction.
Further loss of forest may push endangered animal species, including orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and Sumatran rhinos, into extinction.
Palm oil is a globally traded agricultural commodity that is used in 50 percent of all consumer goods, from lipstick and packaged food to body lotion and biofuels.
Approximately 85 percent of palm oil is grown in the tropical countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) on industrial plantations that have severe impacts on the environment, forest peoples and the climate.
Companies sometimes profit from selling logs from the rainforest and then burn the area to make way for oil palms. The associated road-building, soil erosion, air and water pollution, and chemical contamination also have contributed to the loss of wildlife habitat and the displacement of indigenous peoples.
"Consumers should understand that a seemingly small decision in this country—what kind of cookie, cracker, or hand lotion to buy—can have major consequences on the other side of the world," said Brown.
CSPI’s report highlights five endangered animals:
Sumatran tiger: The Sumatran tiger is one of only five remaining tiger subspecies, reduced from eight by recent extinctions. Only 250 of these animals may exist in the wild.
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans: These are the only great apes that exist outside of Africa. Both species are in crisis and may well become extinct within ten years. One study found that the orangutan population decreased by 45 percent in the 1990s, and much of their remaining habitat is slated for conversion to oil palm agriculture.
Asian elephant: Only about 2,900 elephants are estimated to remain in all of Sumatra, 800 in peninsular Malaysia, and 1,000 in Borneo. The home range of one family of elephants is about 25 to 65 square miles, so a breeding subpopulation of 20 elephant families would need to roam over about 500 to 1,300 square miles. Other Asian elephants survive in other countries.
Sumatran rhinoceros: The two biggest threats to the Sumatran rhino are illegal hunting and habitat loss. Road building shrinks the animals’ travel corridors and makes them more accessible to poachers. Their total population is estimated at fewer than 400.
CSPI, Environmental Defense, the International Primate Protection League, Rainforest Relief, WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, and a dozen other organizations from around the world are urging the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international aid agencies not to fund oil-palm development projects.
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