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The Trouble with Oreos

Not only is the world flat, it is amazingly interconnected. Who would have thought that Oreos or Cheez-Its could contribute to deforestation and global warming?

Today’s Sustainability column at and looks at palm oil, the commodity that connects hundreds of products on supermarket shelves to the disappearing tropical forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Enviros who take a confrontational approach (Rainforest Action Network) as well as those who prefer to consult or collaborate (Conservation International, WWF) are attacking the palm oil problem. So are big agribusiness companies like ADM, Bunge and Cargill, although they’re not moving fast enough or far enough to satisfy the activists at RAN.

Interestingly, the palm oil story appears to be following a script that we’ve seen before in such diverse industries as forestry, mining and fishing: Enviros and consumer brands join together to bring pressure on the extractive industries or Big Ag to improve their practices.

Here’s how the column begins:

What do Oreo cookies made by Nabisco, Cheez-It crackers from Kellogg’s or General Mills’ Fiber One Chewy Bars have to do with global warming and the destruction of tropical rainforests? A lot, say environmental activists.

The link between the supermarket shelf, climate change and shrinking rainforests is palm oil, a controversial ingredient that may now be the most widely-traded vegetable oil in the world.

Here’s the problem: Demand for palm oil, which is found in soaps and cosmetics as well as food, has more than doubled in the last decade as worldwide food consumption has soared. Farmers, in turn, are expanding their plantations, burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia, where nearly all of the palm oil imported to the United States originates. Deforestation is the primary reason that Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions are the third-highest in the world.

You can read the rest here.

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