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Choose sustainable palm oil for Halloween candy

Posted by: Bobbi Miller, Field Conservation

Every kid wants yummy, sticky, sugary candy at Halloween, but not as much as orangutans, Asian elephants and tigers want a healthy place to live and thrive. This year, with just a little extra thought, we can grant both wishes.

Original photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ; modified. Send this as an e-card to your friends!

Halloween candy has been in the stores for weeks (OK, months) now, building up to a weekend of spooky, candy-filled activities for kids and adults alike. When buying candy this year, you can make a difference in the lives of orangutans, tigers, Asian elephants, hornbills and many other animals impacted by the loss of habitat due to palm oil plantations.

Unsustainable palm oil plantations threaten the connected forests orangutans and other species need to survive.
Photo by Tim Laman courtesy of Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife.

It takes a few extra minutes to pick the right candy, but that choice sends a powerful message to companiesone that says you care about the environment and everything in it.

But wait, what exactly is palm oil and why should we care?

An elephant in a palm oil plantation.
Photo courtesy of Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife.

Palm oil is one of the healthiest and most inexpensive vegetable oils on the market today, virtually free of trans fats. In Africa, it is the main cooking oil, and a significant source of biofuel. In the U.S., it is found in at least 50% of the packaged foods, detergents, baked goods and personal care products you would find on the shelves of your local market. And that includes candy, the very same candy you will be passing out to adorable trick-or-treaters in just a little over a week.

While palm oil is a high-quality, high-yield crop, that doesn't always mean it’s being grown sustainably, or that those growing the palm are committed to deforestation- and peat-free agriculture. Because some of the current palm oil production methods cause carbon-rich tropical forests and peat lands to be destroyed, not only does it result in loss of critical species habitat, it also contributes to global climate change.

Grown responsibly, palm oil can be sustainable. Its yield is 11 times higher than the next closest oil (soybean), and results in approximately 4 pounds of oil per hectare. That means it takes less land to generate the same amount of oil, making palm oil less expensive. Add to that the jobs created, and the fact that palms should only need to be replanted every 25 years, and you’d think it would be a win-win for everyone.

View of palm oil plantation. Photo by Achmad Rabin Taim via Wikimedia Commons.

However, the increasing demand for this healthier, inexpensive palm oil has resulted in a rush to plant. In order to secure the land, slash and burn logging has occurred, making palm plantations the leading cause of rain forest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia, according to the United Nations Environment Program. This destruction impacts how elephants move from place to place, and how orangutans transverse the forest for food.

So, what’s a mom or dad to do when buying Halloween candy, or any product for that matter?
Easy. Become an informed consumer. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer. While there are problems with current palm oil production, it has the potential to be the best and most sustainable oil we have. It’s a matter of getting companies to commit to sourcing certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) from producers that have made a commitment to deforestation- and peat-free agriculture.

OK, so where does that leave you in the quest for candy? Simple. Use this list of wildlife-friendly Halloween candy options from companies that have made a commitment to source CSPO, and have joined the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). These companies have heard from consumers, took the comments to heart, and are on the road to sourcing 100% CSPO for their products. You can reinforce those commitments by purchasing their products, and thanking them for caring about the environment.

In the meantime, as you decide on your costume, pull out the Halloween decorations, and head to the market, take this list along with you. As you’re choosing your candy, you can feel good about the fact that you’ve helped to secure a place for orangutans, tigers, elephants and hornbills into the future.

When you stop by Woodland Park Zoo's Pumpkin Bash presented by Delta Dental of Washington, Oct. 25-26 & 31, look for zoo-hosted trick-or-treating stations, all of which use candy from the wildlife-friendly candy list!

Make it a Halloween we can all enjoy and choose wildlife-friendly candy. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.