Opinion Columns & Blogs

Palm oil production poses threat to rainforests, wildlife species

If you washed your hair, brushed your teeth, had a bowl of cereal or ate pretty much any other food that comes in a box, chances are you used palm oil today.

Palm oil is the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil, used in packaged foods, cosmetics, cleaners and many other products.

But its increasing production is destroying critical rainforest habitat and driving tigers, orangutans and other iconic wildlife species ever closer to extinction.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Sustainable palm oil can be produced in an environmentally responsible manner — without contributing to deforestation.

Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Portland’s Oregon Zoo have teamed up to spread the word about palm oil’s impact on wildlife and the urgent need for companies to use sustainable palm oil in their products. Together, we are urging our communities to insist that their favorite products are produced without displacing endangered animals from their tropical forest homes.

Some international companies, including the Pacific Northwest’s own Starbucks, are taking steps to break the link between palm oil and deforestation. Although most coffee drinks do not contain palm oil, the ingredient is found in many Starbucks scones, muffins, cookies, wraps, drink mixes and other products. Starbucks has committed to only use palm oil from sustainable sources by 2015 in Starbucks-branded products.

On National Coffee Day – Sept. 29 – wildlife advocates are invited to join Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and the Oregon Zoo in storming social media with “coffee selfies” to spotlight Starbucks’ sustainable palm oil commitment and its benefits to tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

To participate, post a photo of yourself or a friend enjoying a cup of coffee on Facebook or Twitter with the message: “Thank you @Starbucks for choosing wildlife-friendly palm oil. #coffeeday.” It’s an easy way to take meaningful action to help the wild populations of your favorite animals. Learn more at www.pdza.org/coffeeday or www.oregonzoo.org/coffeeday.

Consumers have enormous power to change the way companies do business, and we want to inspire our communities to use their influence to benefit wildlife.

We believe that by encouraging Starbucks and other forward-thinking companies to take wildlife-friendly actions, consumers can help eliminate destructive palm oil practices and ensure that wild tigers, elephants and other endangered species will be around for future generations.

John Houck is deputy director of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Chris Pfefferkorn is deputy director of the Oregon Zoo.