By: Marilyn Ramos
A couple of days ago, a friend posted on Facebook an article from 2009 that challenged vegans to care about wildlife as much as they do factory farms. Initially, I took issue with the article and my friend’s posting because she is not a vegan and I thought she was criticizing vegans. I commented that: first, I didn’t know any vegans who didn’t also care about wildlife and second, that several vegan companies – upon learning about the horrors of palm oil – were transitioning to other ingredients as quickly as possible.
I realized after re-reading the article and thinking about it that I had two subjects for a blog. The first is about palm oil (the second was about the “plant defense” which is the subject of a future blog). Again, the article was by a vegan writing about the palm oil epidemic and how several vegan products (such as Earth Balance) contain palm oil.
For those who don’t know about the palm oil epidemic, it is a vegetable oil found in at least one in ten products (margarine, bread, chips, crackers, soaps, lipsticks, animal feed, etc.). Unfortunately, the increasing demand for palm oil is contributing to the extinction of orangutans. 85% of the world’s palm oil exports come from the oil plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia which are the only remaining rainforest habitats for orangutans (on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo). These habitats are the same lowland forest that the oil palm industry favors for conversion to palm plantations.
In the past week alone, around 100 Sumatran orangutans have been killed in fires reported to have been lit by palm oil companies in Sumatra.
It is believed that without urgent intervention, orangutans may become extinct in just a few years. Orangutans are Asia’s only great ape. Simply put, palm oil plantations = rainforest destruction = orangutan extinction. A recent report found that almost 90 percent of the orangutan’s habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has now been destroyed. Estimates put the Sumatran orangutan population today at less than 6,600 animals.
Upon reflection, I can see that maybe vegans and other animal advocates may not be giving this emergency the attention it needs. Admittedly, vegans already concentrate on rodeos, circuses, factory farms, animal testing, etc. But do we truly look at alleged vegan products (such as Earth Balance) that may be indirectly contributing to the exploitation and death of animals? Maybe not, but the palm oil situation highlights our need to FURTHER expand our circle of compassion.
It may no longer be okay to just be a vegan who uses products not tested on animals or products that don’t contain animal ingredients. We need to go beyond that.
The good news is that more and more people know about the horrors of palm oil production. Several companies are now working on sustainable palm oil and those companies (vegan or otherwise) who have been using palm oil which comes from Malaysia and Indonesia are looking for other animal and environment friendly sources.
I urge you to read the ingredients in the products that you use. If you see palm oil then:
1) Consider switching to another (vegan) product which does not contain palm oil,
2) Research where that palm oil is coming from,
3) Support those organizations that are trying to save the orangutan or those using sustainable palm oil, and
4) Spread the word to your family and friends because I can’t imagine a world without orangutans.