A Scary Ingredient in your Halloween Candy is Destroying Rainforests and Harming Wildlife
This Halloween, we should consider swapping the ordinary images of graveyards, ghosts and witches with that of burnt forests, skeletal trees and dying wildlife – because the scariest part of this beloved holiday is what your candy is doing to the rainforest. Halloween is one of the biggest holidays for candy sales in the United States, but unfortunately, these treats often contain a secret ingredient that is contributing to the destruction of tropical forests around the world: unsustainable palm oil.
Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet and can be found in approximately 50% of products sold in supermarkets – from shampoos to instant noodles and, of course, candy. It is also responsible for driving deforestation in Indonesia and other tropical nations. This year alone, 800,000 acres of land have been burned to make way for oil palm plantations – hurting wildlife like the Sumatran tiger and orangutans and releasing massive amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere along the way. These fires have turned the sky red in Sumatra and their smoke has caused air quality to become extremely hazardous, putting millions of people – especially children – at risk of severe air pollution. It has been reported that the 2015 forest fires in Indonesia contributed to over 100,000 premature deaths.
If palm oil has been so destructive to our environment, then why does it remain such a popular ingredient? The reality is that palm oil is a particularly versatile oil given its chemical properties, and oil palm has the highest yield of any oil-seed crop (e.g. soy, canola and sunflower), meaning that it requires less land than any other crop to produce the oil needed to meet today’s market demands. In fact, if we were to replace oil palm with other oil crops, more farmland would be needed, which would result in additional deforestation.
The solution, then, is not to do away with palm oil. Rather, we should strive to make its cultivation more sustainable by achieving a high production yield with as little impact on the environment as possible, all while upholding human and labor rights. Fortunately, certification systems exist to facilitate this. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which certifies approximately 20% of global palm oil, sets a variety of sustainability requirements to reduce deforestation and conversion of other natural habitats (like carbon-rich peat swamps) and eliminate human rights and labor violations in palm oil production. In the past, the RSPO received major accusations of greenwashing and came under fire for not going far enough to ensure that certified palm oil was truly sustainably produced. A scientific analysis by NWF and academic partners found that RSPO-certification did reduce deforestation from business-as-usual, but that important changes to the Standard would be necessary to make these impacts meaningful at scale. Fortunately, in late 2018, the RSPO adopted new and more stringent requirements, becoming a true “No Deforestation” standard and marking a big win for wildlife!
At this moment, not all of the palm oil that goes into making candy in the U.S. comes from certified plantations, so it is hard to hit the supermarket with a clear conscience. Chocolate production, which we’ve previously written about, can also have a major impact on wildlife habitat. In late 2017, a coalition of companies and NGOs formed the North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON), and committed to increasing the amount of certified palm oil in the North American market to 100%. There are still, however, major supply-chain challenges to ensuring that all of the palm oil in American products is sustainably produced, and NWF remains committed to helping companies overcome them.
Deforestation, scorched earth and homeless animals certainly paint a spooky picture during Halloween, but solutions exist to minimize the negative impact of palm oil production. Through organized and collaborative consumer pressure, we can push companies and manufacturers at home to source certified palm oil and encourage their suppliers to adopt stricter sustainability practices. Sign our petition demanding sustainable Halloween candy and put pressure on candy-makers to end deforestation:
Company sustainability claims must amount to something. Certification systems must reward truly responsible production to help shift the market from business-as-usual. The trick to achieving sustainable palm oil is increased accountability for palm oil producers, manufacturers, and retailers—the best treat you could receive this Halloween.