CSPI Says Orangutans Literally “Dying for Cookies”

Group Calls on Food Industry & Consumers to Avoid Palm Oil from Unsustainable Sources in Malaysia and Indonesia


Increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitats of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, pushing those and other already endangered species even closer to extinction, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a full-page ad in The New York Times, CSPI says orangutans are literally dying for cookies, as food manufacturers are replacing partially hydrogenated oils with palm oil in cookies, crackers, cereals, and microwave popcorn. CSPI, which has led efforts to get trans fats out of foods, is calling on food manufacturers to use as little palm oil as possible and to seek it out from environmentally sustainable sources.

“As it happens, palm oil is almost as conducive to heart disease as the partially hydrogenated oil it is frequently replacing,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But much of the increased demand for palm oil is being satisfied by growers in Malaysia and Indonesia, whose authoritarian regimes turn a blind eye to the environmental destruction.”

Palm oil is forecast to overtake soybean oil as the world’s most produced and traded edible oil by 2012. Malaysia and Indonesia account for 83 percent of palm oil production, according to Cruel Oil—a 2005 CSPI report on the health and environmental consequences of palm oil. Since the 1970s, the area planted with oil palm in Indonesia has grown more than 30-fold to almost 12,000 square miles. In Malaysia, the area devoted to oil palm has increased 12-fold to 13,500 square miles.

As rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations, orangutans and other species have less room to roam and reproduce and become easier targets for poachers. Borneo’s orangutan population was reduced by a third in just one year, 1997, when almost 8,000 were either burned to death or massacred as they tried to flee fires set to clear rainforest for new plantations.

CSPI’s ad shows a baby orangutan sitting amidst skulls of adult orangutans with the headline “Dying for a Cookie?” The ad urges consumers to read labels and to select products with non-hydrogenated soybean, corn, canola, or peanut oils, all of which are more environmentally friendly and better for human hearts and arteries than palm oil. “We can find other ways of making cookies,” the ad reads. “We can’t find other ways of making orangutans.”

In an alert posted on its web site CSPI calls on H. Lee Scott, Jr., president and CEO of Wal-Mart, to adopt a corporate policy on sustainable palm oil. CSPI says that as the nation’s biggest grocery retailer, Wal-Mart should reformulate its house brands to use as little of the ingredient as possible, to seek out sustainable sources for the palm oil it does use, and to insist that its suppliers to do the same. Wal-Mart’s British subsidiary, Asda, has already joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a international forum of industry and NGO stakeholders.

“Fortunately, many companies that have reformulated their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils have been able to do so by using healthier oils,” Jacobson said. “Palm oil should be treated as an ingredient of last resort by consumers and corporations alike.”

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]