The FDA just announced plans to phase out trans fats from the U.S. food market. They claim that this move could save 7,000 people from deaths related to heart disease and 20,000 heart attacks each year.
This artificially-created substance is known to increase your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and reduce your “good” HDL cholesterol. As Harvard Medical Schools aptly puts it, “There is no safe level of trans fats.”
But environmentalists are concerned that this health-inspired legislation will come at the expense of our planet’s forests. Wondering how?
Trans-fats come in the form of hydrogenated oils. This substance was beloved by food-makers thanks to its thick consistency and inexpensive manufacturing costs. It was used in virtually everything – from cookies to cereals to fast food to dairy products. And now foodmakers need a replacement, and palm oil is the top choice.
Palm oil is also a thickening agent. It’s also cheap to make. And it just happens to be healthier than trans-fats. But this is where the list of pros ends.
About 85 percent of the world’s palm oil supply is harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia. In the past twenty years, Indonesia’s area of palm oil plantations has increased by nearly 800 percent, proving just how increasingly popular the substance is. But growers need room in order to seed plantations. So they’re cutting down the forests.
The impact that this has on the environment is massive. Native forest communities and plant and animals rely on the habitat to provide them with food and shelter. Some of the world’s most endangered species live in Southeast Asia’s forests. One of the most threatened is the orangutan, who has thrived in the leafy habitat for millennia.
Growers often burn down the forests to make way for plantations. Orangutans are notoriously slow-moving on the ground, and often, they can’t flee to safety in time. Those that do survive the blaze cannot thrive in the open habitats of the palm oil plantation, and are left defenseless against hunters and poachers. To date, 80 percent of orangutan’s habitats have been altered or destroyed and the number of the species living in the wild has decreased by 50 percent in the past decade.
Neither national nor global policy has enforced measures to ensure the sustainable growth of palm oil. Until action is taken, there are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that you don’t (however unwittingly) contribute to the issue:
1. First, watch this moving video (it’s only 2 minutes long) and share it with your friends and family. Spread the word.
2. Sign the petition to ban palm oil.
3. Learn how to buy responsibly by purchasing palm oil alternatives.
This problem is so dangerous because few people are actually aware that it exists. By driving the connection between what we eat and how it affects our environment, you can help to achieve true change for our planet.