The Orangutan and the Bulldozer
Every major life decision we make can usually be traced back to some deeply emotional event, an event that changed our life forever. That feeling of clarity we experience when all the dots connect, and we suddenly start questioning everything we've ever known. Just like that, we start seeing the world with brand new eyes, wide awake, consciously aware and unable to go back to the way things were.
Just the other day, a video from 2013 was released by International Animal Rescue, showing an orangutan desperately trying to stop a bulldozer from destroying his forest home. A courageous act on behalf of the hundred thousand orangutans, sumatran tigers, asian elephants, sumatran rhinos and sun bears wiped out before him, all for the sake of feeding our planets ever growing hunger for Palm oil, the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet. This is mother nature showing us her patience and grace in the midst of all this pain and horror. She is showing us that hope and love still endure, despite the mass deforestation, habitat degradation, animal cruelty, and extreme exploitation of the land and its people that continues day after day, as a result of palm oil plantations. This in an urgent cry for understanding, a desperate plea for help. Press play.
Palm oil is a high yield, low cost and highly versatile oil that is used extensively in 50% of all manufactured goods you can find on the supermarket shelves today. Majority people consume on average 10 kilograms a year, largely unaware of the environmental consequences, and unable to properly exercise consumer choice due to unclear labelling and the lack of regulations around it. The recent spike in global awareness of the detrimental effects, has led most brands to disguise the use of palmoil on their packaging, which makes it virtually impossible to identify if palm oil is being used.
The World Wildlife Fund states that "the palm oil industry can grow and prosper without destroying tropical rainforests by adhering to the principals of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil". Theoretically this sounds great, but when such great care is taken to hide the truth across the industry, we must question whether truly sustainable palm oil really exist. Animal rescue organisations that are operating in the region, has evidence to support that sustainability seals are not effective at preventing the destruction of rainforests and loss of biodiversity...(yet!) This is where you as a consumer have an important role to play, because without consumer awareness and objection, the effects of palm oil will likely join the ranks of the world’s worst environmental disasters facilitated by humans.
The deliberate ignorance to the serious environmental consequences, and the high degree of incongruent information was what led Biome founder, Tracy Bailey, to make Biome a store entirely free from palm oil. After 14 years of asking companies to declare palm oil on their packaging without much success, eliminating palm oil products became the only ethical choice for Biome. How can there be sustainable palm oil if most traders do not know what they buy, nor what plantation the oil originates from? The decision to partner up with POI, (Palm Oil Investigations) and eliminate all products containing palm oil was a risky decision, but not compared to the risk of doing nothing.
As the first 'POI approved' palm oil free store in the world, Biome is hopeful their drastic measures can inspire consumers to think about the ingredients in the products they buy, and start petitioning for mandatory labelling laws for palm oil use. What most people may not be aware of, is that the negative effects of the current industry practises reaches far beyond total environmental devastation. The fire haze crisis from forest destruction has become a major threat to human health across Southeast Asia. In 2015 alone the fire haze contributed to 100,000 premature deaths. Now if we combined all of that with the widespread human rights abuse and child labour uncovered in the plantations, the palm oil industry has a lot to answer for.
"Brands need to clean up their supply chains and cut out anyone still destroying forests. That’s the only way we’ll get this destructive industry to change."
The oil is not the problem, the industry's 'don't ask, don't tell policy' is the problem. It is high time more brands and retailers took responsibility for the palm oil they're using (and secretly funding), especially as the demand is set to double within the next ten years! The promises made by the Indonesian Government and large corporations to protect the rainforests from commercial exploitation, has so far proven empty. Recent investigations have found at least six illegal Indonesian logging outposts in the last year alone, all operating under the cover of night. Indonesia has since 1990 lost 31 million hectares of rainforest to palm oil. To put that into perspective, that is almost the size of Germany. Forests are the lungs of our planet, and while it seems the locals are paying for the damage now, we will all be paying for it soon.
When enough people know the truth, there will be nowhere to hide.
The intention behind this story was not to repeat what you already know, nor to overwhelm you with facts or make you feel guilty. The intention was simply to foster empathy, connect the dots and inspire action. We would encourage you to do your own research, to spread the word and to take action where you can. We can't all be out in the field rescuing endangered animals, nor do we need to. Nothing speaks as loud as consumer behaviour, and by supporting those who bravely lead the way towards a more sustainable future, you are actively making a positive difference. Decide on what kind of difference you want to make, and what kind of future you want to see... the Orangutan or the Bulldozer?